David Fiske is the new secretary of the board of directors of the United Way of the National Capital Area. An item in the March 1 Metro in Brief column had an incorrect title. (Published 3/6/03)

THE REGION

Banker Named United Way's Board Chief United Way of the National Capital Area said yesterday that its new board chairman will be William Couper, president of the Washington area Bank of America. Couper had been interim board chairman since the new United Way board of directors took office in early January after the previous board was dismantled following months of controversy over the organization's finances.

Also at yesterday's board of director's meeting, the 21-member board chose Alexandria lawyer David Fiske as vice chairman. Chairs of new committees of the all-volunteer board were also named: Financial management guru Ric Edelman will head the development committee, a new fundraising panel for the organization; and Gerald Kauvar, special assistant to the president at George Washington University, will chair the ethics committee.

THE DISTRICT

Bias Lawsuit Against Sodexho Advances A federal appeals court in Washington ruled this week that a class-action race discrimination suit against Sodexho Inc., a Gaithersburg-based food service company and one of the nation's largest employers, can proceed toward trial.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously rejected the company's appeal of a lower-court ruling that certified a lawsuit brought by a group of black managers as a class-action case. That ruling, by U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, meant that the suit applied to all black managers in the nationwide company of more than 100,000 employees.

The plaintiffs, led by Cynthia Carter McReynolds, manager of the company's account at Howard University, allege that the company systematically denies black managers promotions to senior positions.

"We are confident that when we present the facts in this case that it will be clear that this company does not discriminate," said Leslie Aun, the company's spokeswoman.

White Powder Harmless in Letters on Hill Firefighters and police were called to check several reports of letters with white powder around Capitol Hill yesterday, but all were found to be harmless, authorities said.

U.S. Capitol Police said they investigated at least three instances in which House or Senate offices received letters containing white powder. None turned out to pose a threat, a police spokeswoman said, though she did not know what the powder was or whether the letters came from a common address. Officials irradiated the letters and tested them for biological contaminants.

In a fourth incident, the D.C. fire department's hazardous materials unit was called about 1:15 p.m. to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners building in the 100 block of Constitution Avenue NW after a mail deliverer found powder at the bottom of a box of letters. Firefighters and medical personnel in protective suits examined the powder and three people thought to have been exposed to it but declared the scene safe after an hour and a half. Officials said the substance was similar to talcum powder.

VIRGINIA

Glassmaker to Pay State for Air Pollution A James City glassmaking plant has agreed to pay the state more than $216,000 for increasing emissions of air pollutants without a permit. Owens-Brockway Glass Containers also agreed to install additional pollution-control equipment at a cost of more than $200,000.

Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Bill Hayden said the company made improvements to increase production at its Toano plant. He said those improvements increased emissions of sulfur dioxide and dustlike particles.

Owens-Brockway makes glass containers for food, drinks and other products.

Water Lines to Reach 300 More Families More than 300 families in southwestern Virginia that have been without drinking water for years will soon be added to public water systems in their communities.

Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) has announced that Lee and Russell counties and the town of Wise will share about $1.2 million from the Abandoned Mine Land Program. The program benefits areas that were substantially affected by surface coal mining activities before 1981.

Water lines will be extended to 120 homes in Lee County and 180 homes in Russell County. Also, a well will be drilled to supplement a Wise reservoir that serves about 3,000 homes.

Alexandria's St. Patrick's Parade Delayed Tomorrow's St. Patrick's Day Parade in Old Town Alexandria is postponed until next Saturday.

MARYLAND

State Police Chief's Spending Probed A federal grand jury is investigating an off-the-books fund used by former Baltimore police commissioner Edward T. Norris.

Norris, recently confirmed as state police superintendent, used the fund to finance $159,000 in expenses, including thousands of dollars for trips, meals and gifts.

An investigator in the U.S. attorney's office served the Baltimore police department on Thursday with a federal grand jury subpoena for all records and receipts related to the account during Norris's tenure as commissioner.

City police said Thursday that they turned over the requested records, including receipts and canceled checks, after receiving the subpoena. "The Baltimore Police Department intends to fully cooperate with the investigation," said Ragina Averella, the department's chief spokeswoman.

The audit found that Norris and his aides had spent $5,522 on personal or questionable purchases. The city deducted $7,688 from Norris's $137,000 severance when he resigned in December. Norris defended his use of the fund after it was disclosed, although he said bookkeeping was "sloppy" and eventually apologized. Mayor Martin O'Malley strongly defended Norris's integrity at the time while expressing anger at the lack of tight accounting.

Norris declined to comment. Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said the superintendent felt the issue was "old news" and had been thoroughly investigated.

The communications director for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who appointed Norris to the state police post, also defended Norris.

"It looks like the winter of 2003 will be etched in the minds of many people -- young and old -- for years to come."

-- Ed Danaher, a National Weather Service meteorologist,

on the service's Web site. -- Page B1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Jacqueline L. Salmon, David A. Fahrenthold and Neely Tucker and the Associated Press.