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D.C. Council appoints new members to represent city on Metro board

The D.C. Council on Tuesday appointed two new members to represent the city on the Metro board in an effort to stem the political and financial turmoil at the troubled transit agency.

Corbett Price, a financial consultant and reputed changemaker, was named to replace Tom Downs, a former Amtrak chief executive and career transit expert who had fallen out of favor with D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) amid disagreements over the type of leadership Metro needs.

The council also appointed Leif A. Dormsjo, head of the District Department of Transportation, to serve as an alternate on the board.

Price will serve on the board until the end of June, when the council is to vote on extending his appointment.

Emergency legislation was necessary to expedite the approval of Price and Dormsjo, because normal protocol would not have allowed them to take their seats until the end of April, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) told his colleagues at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“These are not normal circumstances at Metro. We do not have a general manager,” said Evans, who also represents the city on the Metro board. Richard Sarles retired as general manager in January.

Last week, the transit board indefinitely suspended its search for a new general manager and decided to reevaluate its expansion plans amid divisions between District, Maryland and Virginia officials over what kind of chief executive the agency needs.

Bowser and other D.C. officials are said to favor a financial turnaround specialist. Downs was part of a group that favored a more traditional transit executive.

The agency, which is working to pay off more than $500 million in debt, has also faced renewed scrutiny over its safety protocol in recent months. In January, a smoke incident in a Metro tunnel left one passenger dead and scores injured.

Price, who acknowledged Tuesday that he does not have any experience working in transportation, is chairman and chief executive of Quantix Health Capital, a private equity and financial advisory firm. He also is the founder and chief executive of Kurron & Co., “a management consulting and finance firm that manages healthcare companies in the U.S. and abroad,” according to an e-mail by Michael Czin, a spokesman for Bowser’s office.

Previously, Price served “in a senior capacity at HCA healthcare company . . . where he directed the operational and financial activities of twenty-five healthcare business units — including hospitals, urgent care centers, physicians groups, elder homes, and home health agencies,” Czin said.

Price said his financial management experience and work serving on several boards — including that of Ohio State University — show that he has the skills and know-how to serve Metro’s board well.

“You don’t have to be a train person to sit on the board. But you do need to understand how a board should function, and how do you ensure that you’re carrying out the mission of the organization. That is my area of expertise — I spend most of my time sitting on boards now,” Price said in a phone interview from Florida, where his family is vacationing.

“I’m not there to run Metro,” Price added. “But I do understand the elements of companies that have challenges before them, and Metro does have some challenges.”

Price, whom other board members described as handpicked by Bowser, said he would “follow the mayor’s vision for how the system should be operated.”

According to public records, Price and his wife each contributed the maximum $2,000 to Bow­ser’s mayoral campaign.

“Just who is Corbett Price?” is a question that The Washington Post posed in a 2009 article after he was called upon to sort out the finances of the struggling Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly. Price had helped the same hospital lay off 615 employees in 1985, when he was vice president of the for-profit Hospital Corporation of America. A union representative for hospital workers described Price’s methods as “slash and burn.”

Price, 65, described himself as a “native Washingtonian” — a “driver’s license[-holding], voting and tax-paying member of the community. And that’s the reason I agreed to serve on the Metro board: because I wanted to give back to the community that I was born in,” he said Tuesday.

According to public records, Price registered to vote in the District last month. His address is listed in Northwest WashingtonPreviously, he was registered in New York. According to public records, Price owns property in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and Florida.

Evans told the D.C. Council on Tuesday that Price's initial short-term appointment, with the option for reappointment, will help determine whether he's a good fit for a longer term.

"In many ways, this works because it gives the public a chance to see [Price] in action," Evans said.

Jennifer Jenkins and Paul Duggan contributed to this report.