Metro talks with Sarles, 2 more for top job

By Ann Scott Tyson
Sunday, January 16, 2011

Metro Interim General Manager Richard Sarles and two other candidates - one with a transit background and one from the corporate sector - were interviewed by Metro's Board of Directors on Saturday as the search for a permanent general manager enters a new phase, according to a source familiar with the search.

Metro's four-person search committee, together with an executive search firm, came up with a list of a couple of dozen candidates and narrowed it down to the three interviewed by the full board at a private location.

"The search for the next general manager is being conducted by the Board of Directors, and we have no comment," Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

Sarles also declined to discuss the search in a recent interview but said he had always taken a long-term perspective on tackling Metro's problems since becoming interim chief in April.

"I came as interim. The way I've acted is I'll be here forever," Sarles said in an interview in his office at Metro headquarters. "That's the way I managed. I did not want to just sit here and be a caretaker. . . . Hopefully nobody feels that I've done that."

How the board will react to the candidates is uncertain, especially given the major turnover underway on the body that oversees Metro.

Four members with many years of experience on the board have already left - Jim Graham of the District, Chris Zimmerman of Arlington County, Neil O. Albert of the District and Marcell Solomon of Prince George's County - and as many as four more of the current 14 members are likely to depart soon, according to board members.

As a result, at least three new board members - Mary Hynes of Arlington, Kathy Porter of Maryland and Tommy Wells of the District - were involved in Saturday's general manager candidate interviews and deliberations.

Board Chairman Peter Benjamin, who has led the search committee, made it clear that whoever is on the board at the time the selection is made would have a voice in the decision.

Federal board member Mortimer Downey, also a member of the search committee, compared the board turnover to a "relay race."

It is uncertain whether the new and less-experience board members will be more likely to go along with the opinion of the veteran members, or whether they will prove more assertive in the selection, which could possibly slow the process.

"Supposing the board members look at the candidates that the search committee presents and say 'We like the theory, but we don't like any of the people,' then we would keep looking," Benjamin said.

The board will have to come to an informal consensus on which candidate to select before a formal vote, Benjamin said.

Under Metro's rules, one voting member from Maryland, Virginia and the District as well as another board member must be present for that vote to take place.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company