Who's minding the Metro board?

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

TO THE LIST of dysfunction at Metro -- broken escalators; deadly accidents and safety mishaps; aging equipment; crumbling platforms; uncertain management; parlous finances -- add one more glaring problem: members of Metro's own board of directors who regard their responsibility to attend board meetings as optional. Put another way, some of the same people whom passengers are relying on to fix a broken agency can't even be bothered to show up.

According to records obtained by the Washington Examiner, about half of the 14 Metro board members have missed meetings in the 18 months that ended July 1 with some regularity, meaning at least a quarter to a fifth of the time. By far the worst offenders are D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), one of the District's representatives on the board, and Marcell Solomon, one of Maryland's. By their absences, both men make a mockery of the nation's second-busiest transit system and display contempt not only for their colleagues on the board, but also for the system's bus and rail passengers.

Mr. Brown, who seems to regard his service on the board as an amusing hobby, skipped 52 meetings, about two-thirds of the Metro board's sessions, since the start of 2009. Mr. Solomon was paid almost $40,000 last year for his so-called service on the board, more than any other board member. Still, he skipped about half the meetings in the same time span. (A few of his absences early this year may have been due to knee surgery.)

In his defense, Mr. Brown points out that he's an alternate member, without a vote on the full board, so -- this part is implicit -- who cares if he plays hooky? In fact, alternate members are empowered to vote on critical and often decisive issues in committee meetings, which are numerous and which he skips at the same rate as full board meetings. Mr. Brown serves on the Metro board at the pleasure of D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who should immediately replace him with someone who cares enough to show up.

Mr. Solomon was appointed by his close friend and sometime legal client Jack B. Johnson, Prince George's County executive. Mr. Johnson has made a habit of rewarding his cronies with handsomely paid, no-show jobs. According to the Examiner, among the meetings Mr. Solomon skipped was one last month at which Metro's real estate committee approved an important plan to develop land around the New Carrollton station in Prince George's, the jurisdiction he is supposed to represent. Mr. Solomon's truancy is an embarrassment to Metro, to Maryland and to Prince George's. He, too, should be removed from the Metro board without delay.


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