Maryland, Virginia and D.C. leaders push ahead with Metro governance reforms

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; 7:36 PM

The governors of Maryland and Virginia and the incoming D.C. mayor directed their top transportation officials on Tuesday to come up with a detailed plan in two months for carrying out broad changes in how Metro is run.

In a conference call on Tuesday morning, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), and D.C. Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray (D) agreed to move forward with recommendations made in a highly critical report on Metro issued last week by a joint task force of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

"The loss of life that's already happened makes this a very important matter for all of us," O'Malley said. "A once-proud system has now sadly become one of the most dangerous in the country. We need to change that, and more direct governance is an important part of that."

Last spring, the executives of Maryland, Virginia and the District called for stricter oversight of Metro, citing safety lapses including the crash of a Red Line train in June 2009 that killed nine people. In its final report on the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said a negligent attitude toward safety at Metro made such an accident inevitable.

The task force report delivered last week calls for giving the executives a leading role in pushing through changes, and also in selecting the leadership and members of Metro's board of directors. Overall, it urges limiting the board's role to that of a policy-making body. Metro's general manager would assume a stronger position as a chief executive officer with full control over daily operations.

The call for overhauling Metro comes as the board continues its search for a new permanent general manager for the agency, which transports more than 1 million people by bus and rail each weekday. The search could conclude as early as next month.

O'Malley, McDonnell and Gray directed their top transportation officials to develop a comprehensive implementation plan and schedule. They also instructed them to seek input from Metro's board; Interim General Manager Richard Sarles; the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which oversees safety at Metro; as well as local transportation commissions.

O'Malley said a working group will review the task force report to determine which recommendations can be carried out under current laws, and which require a change in Metro's governing compact. Changing the compact requires approval from Congress and from local jurisdictions, all of which must approve the same wording.

The three executives plan to urge local congressional delegations to act on Metro's governance structure by early spring.

The task force report specifically called for the creation of a seven-person Metro governance commission that would propel the reforms. The panel would include he three executives and the leaders of the four authorities that currently appoint members to the Metro board: the Washington Suburban Transit Commission, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, the D.C. Council and the General Services Administration.

The report created some controversy because it called for allowing the executives of Maryland, Virginia and the District to each appoint a member of the board, and also for allowing the appointment of a board chairman from outside the board membership who would have a regional perspective, effectively reducing the influence of local elected officials.

The task force "is not convinced that elected officials are able to adopt a long-term, regional perspective," the report said. In addition, it calls for curbing or eliminating the veto power of individual board members.

The Metro Riders' Advisory Council disagreed with any move away from elected board members in its own recently issued draft report on Metro governance, which stated that "the Board is analogous to a legislature and should include public officials." The council consists of 21 members from throughout the region.

Staff writers Anita Kumar, Nikita Stewart and John Wagner contributed to this report.

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