Metro board chairman Jack Evans acknowledged Wednesday night that he violated the board’s ethics code by failing to disclose a conflict of interest and agreed not to seek reelection as chairman to help settle an investigation into his conduct.
Evans’s statement reversed assertions he made Tuesday, when he repeatedly claimed that the board’s ethics committee had cleared him of all violations. He also had claimed that his decision to not seek reelection as chairman had nothing to do with the ethics probe. His term ends June 30.
It also differed from Evans’s comments earlier Wednesday, when The Washington Post published a memo written by Metro General Counsel Patricia Y. Lee that contradicted his earlier declarations. Evans claimed then that he did not know what the ethics committee decided.
Evans provided his latest account in a telephone interview Wednesday night — 4 ½ hours after the legal memo was reported.
“Although it is not my recollection, it is clear from Patricia’s Lee’s memo that the ethics committee found that I violated Code of Ethics Article II. D by failing to disclose a conflict of interest, and that I agreed to not seek reelection as chair of the [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] board,” he said, initially reading from a prepared statement.
“I apologize for any misunderstanding, and I accept the committee’s findings,” Evans said.
Asked how his understanding could have been so faulty given that he was present at the May 7 meeting when the committee’s findings were first described, Evans said he was focused then mainly on the committee’s demand that he revise his disclosure forms to include that he had a $50,000-a-year contract with Colonial Parking, the company that presented the conflict of interest.
The ethics committee “may have very well said I violated” the code, Evans said. “I’m not going to argue with that. That’s something that went by me. I was focused on what is the remedy, and the remedy was to add [Colonial] as the client.”
Evans’s lawyer, Mark Tuohey, who was on the telephone during the interview, said Evans had consulted earlier in the day with Lee and with ethics committee member Corbett Price, who has defended Evans.
Evans’s reversal came as Metro board members and regional officials, speaking earlier in the day, expressed concern that the controversy was hurting the transit agency’s reputation. They said it could make it harder for Metro to win congressional support for an extension of its federal subsidy of $150 million a year.
The affair has raised concerns about ethical violations and dishonesty in Metro’s top ranks. The ethics committee also has drawn criticism for its failure to produce a formal, written report of its findings and to keep written minutes of its proceedings.
“We look like a clown show,” said a Metro board member who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the issue. “I can see it making it harder for the [regional congressional] delegation and the senators to push through the [subsidy] reauthorization.”
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) called the process “a mess.” Evans is the council’s representative on the Metro board as well as a Democratic council member representing Ward 2.
Although the outside law firm hired by the committee to investigate Evans found “evidence of multiple violations” of the board’s ethics code and the Metro Compact, the four-member ethics committee could agree to cite Evans on only one violation — a conflict of interest regarding Evans’s work on behalf of Colonial Parking, according to a four-page summary written by ethics committee chair Clarence W. Crawford.
Evans failed to disclose he was receiving $50,000 a year in the consulting contract with Colonial as he was “waging a campaign” against another company, LAZ Parking, such as by repeatedly initiating investigations by Metro’s inspector general, Crawford said.
Lee’s two-paragraph memo, written for her files, was dated May 7, the day that the ethics committee concluded its eight-week investigation of Evans.
The memo was distributed to Metro board members Wednesday by Crawford. It supports the summary of the committee’s findings that Crawford sent Monday to the governors of Maryland and Virginia — a summary that Evans and his defenders previously said was untrue.
On Tuesday, Evans said in media interviews that the ethics committee had cleared him.
“The ethics committee at Metro found no violation of any ethics rules on my part,” Evans told WAMU-FM 88.5. He made a similar statement in an interview with Fox 5 television.
Evans also repeated earlier claims that his decision not to seek reelection had nothing to do with the decision to close the ethics committee’s investigation. He said he had only agreed to amend his annual disclosure forms to list Colonial as a consulting client — a point that has never been in dispute.
But the Lee memo said: “The Ethics Committee found that Mr. Evans violated Code of Ethics Article II. D by failing to disclose a conflict of interest. . . . Mr. Evans has also agreed that he will not seek reelection as Chair of the [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] Board.”
When asked Wednesday afternoon to comment on the Lee memo, Evans said: “I don’t know what the ethics committee decided. It’s my recollection that they asked me to file an amendment to my disclosure form, which I did. As far as not running for [Metro] chair, I had made that clear a year before that I would not run for chair, and told the committee in May that I would not run for chair.”
Crawford said Evans was present at the May 7 meeting when Lee said she would put its findings in writing in the memo for her files.
“She outlined what the memo was going to say, and everybody said okay,” Crawford said. “Mr. Evans and his attorney were present.”
Crawford also confirmed that Evans told him a year ago that he did not plan to seek reelection as Metro chair. But Crawford said the ethics committee decided to have him reaffirm that in case he was having second thoughts.
“My intuition, maybe wrong, was that that decision [not to seek reelection] might be under reconsideration,” Crawford said. “This allowed us to reaffirm to everybody that that wasn’t going to happen.”
In addition to Crawford, who represents Maryland on the Metro board, committee members Paul Smedberg, who represents Virginia, and David Horner, who represents the federal government, also said that the committee found Evans had committed a violation and that he agreed not to seek reelection as board chair as part of the agreement to close the investigation.
The fourth member, Price, who represents the District and is usually allied with Evans, has previously supported Evans’s view.