Evans’s resignation followed an agency investigation that found that he failed to disclose a conflict of interest arising from his private consulting work for the District’s largest parking company. Records of the probe obtained by The Washington Post last week said that both Evans and Price — in addition to falsely stating that Evans was cleared of wrongdoing — badgered Metro’s general counsel and maneuvered in other ways to prevent the findings from becoming public.
Those allegations may have been a tipping point for some council members.
“It’s beyond unprofessional and improper. I think it’s disgraceful,” said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who chairs the committee on transportation and the environment. “There’s one thing I really dislike, and that’s a person who’s a bully to staff and to people below them. I think that’s cowardly.”
Cheh, who voted against removing Price from the board in July, said she is now convinced he should step down and may reintroduce a resolution to force him off the board in September, when the council returns from its summer recess.
Cheh said there is “growing disquiet” among council members about Price remaining on the Metro board.
Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who also voted against removing Price in July, said this week he was “deeply concerned with his actions on the ethics committee, and I question how much he’s representing the District’s interests at this point.”
A spokeswoman for D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said he plans to discuss Price’s future with the mayor next week, when Mendelson returns from vacation.
Bowser dismissed the documents showing that Price joined Evans in pressuring the Metro lawyer.
“I can’t really comment on if a phone call is pressuring somebody,” Bowser told reporters Wednesday. “All [Metro] board members can get access to information, so I don’t think there’s any allegation against Corbett Price other than making a phone call.”
Asked if she still had confidence in Price, Bowser didn’t answer directly but said, “What’s very important to me is our interests [are] protected on that board.”
Saying it was “also important that Metro get its ethical house in order,” she noted that the council has acted to investigate Evans, “and that’s what has my support.”
In a phone interview, Price disputed some of the descriptions of his conduct by Metro officials and in the investigative documents and said his critics were involved in a “rush to judgment.”
He said comments like those from Cheh, in whose ward he resides, would deter qualified people such as himself from taking on civic roles.
“How many people in her ward actively participate in boards and commissions, actively giving back to the city? I guarantee there are very few. It’s a thankless job. It’s very time-consuming,” Price said. “I’m a volunteer. I’m serving out of civic responsibility. I can understand why we cannot get corporate leaders to serve on these boards of the city because of this foolishness and nonsense.”
Along with his family members and companies, Price donated more than $35,000 to the mayor’s 2014 campaign and inaugural committee, campaign finance records show.
Evans, the District’s longest-serving elected official, is the subject of a federal investigation into his relationships with various businesses. In March, The Post reported that Evans circulated business proposals to local law firms, offering to use his connections and influence to benefit the firms’ clients.
That revelation spurred Metro to launch an ethics investigation. An outside law firm hired by the agency found that Evans repeatedly used his position as the board’s chairman to try to benefit a parking company that was secretly paying $50,000 per year to a consulting firm he owns.
The board’s ethics committee ultimately decided that Evans committed a single violation of an ethics code by failing to disclose a conflict of interest. However, Price — a member of the committee — helped Evans block the panel’s conclusions from being made public, or even divulged to the full Metro board, according to confidential agency documents and interviews.
Evans and Price were described as repeatedly phoning and pressuring Metro General Counsel Patricia Y. Lee at the time. Evans was also described as threatening the jobs of Lee and corporate board secretary Jennifer Green Ellison. Evans’s lawyer disputed that he did so.
Evans did not return calls Wednesday.
The Metro documents include handwritten notes from then-ethics committee Chairman Clarence C. Crawford and Metro Senior Vice President Lynn M. Bowersox describing Evans and Price as threatening to skip a meeting of the full Metro board, thus denying the board a quorum to review the ethics committee’s findings.
Price denied the allegation. “I would not threaten to deny a quorum for the board,” he said, noting that the District has two alternate members who can fill in. “If I’m not available, there are two additional alternates.”
Price faulted Crawford for sharing information with Bowersox about his positions regarding the board meetings. “Crawford lacked sophistication and competency in terms of his role as chair of the ethics committee,” he said.
Price also disputed the accounts that he behaved rudely toward Lee.
“I did not harass Patty Lee,” he said. “I never yelled at her. . . . I called [her] for clarification.”
An emergency resolution to quickly remove Price from the Metro board would require nine votes on the 13-member council.
In addition to Cheh, the four council members who voted in July to oust Price — Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) and David Grosso (I-At Large) said this week that they still favor his removal.
Council members Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who voted against his removal, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4), who also voted not to remove Price, said he would need to review a Post article from last week about efforts to block disclosure of the Metro ethics investigation before commenting.
Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8), who was absent at the time of the July vote, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The ethics committee’s decision in May to keep secret the results of its inquiry has drawn criticism not only of Price but also of panel member David Horner, who represents the federal government on the Metro board. He joined Price in favoring confidentiality.
Nearly 300 people have signed a petition on the pro-transit website Greater Greater Washington calling for resignations of Price and Horner.
But Horner seems to have behaved differently than Price in key respects. He was the first ethics committee member to publicly back Crawford’s account that the panel found Evans had committed a violation, at a time when Evans and Price were saying the opposite. Horner also has not been alleged to have pressured Metro staff.
Horner has said he opposed public disclosure of the committee’s decisions because he was dissatisfied with its procedures, especially the lack of a standard to judge what evidence was sufficient to prove Evans had violated the ethics code. Given those limitations, Horner told a Metro board meeting June 27, it was “important to err on the side of fairness and caution.”
Perry Stein contributed to this report.