Jack Evans said Thursday that he will not seek reelection as Metro board chair when his term ends June 30, as the panel’s ethics committee said it had closed its investigation of him but would not disclose the results to the public.
Evans, who will remain on the board, said his decision against seeking another term as chairman had nothing to do with the ethics probe, but that account was not confirmed by the ethics committee head, board member Clarence C. Crawford.
Crawford repeatedly sidestepped reporters’ questions about the inquiry, and specifically declined to say whether the investigation was closed on the condition that Evans agree not to seek reelection as chairman.
Crawford, who represents Maryland and is the board’s first vice chair, would say only that the matter has been “resolved” and “closed,” and that no further information about it would be made public.
Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Evans should step down from the board.
“Jack Evans did the right thing to step down as @wmata chairman, but he is so ethically compromised that he should resign from the board altogether,” Hogan tweeted. “That is the only way Maryland — and the entire region — can truly move forward.”
Evans, who represents the District, made his announcement in passing at Thursday’s Metro board meeting.
He said he was leaving the chairman’s job because after more than three years, “it’s time to rotate [the chairmanship] to a different jurisdiction.”
But Metro, in a brief statement from Crawford on Thursday afternoon, said there is no requirement that the chairmanship be rotated. In response to questions about whether it was true that there was no connection between the ethics investigation and Evans’s announcement, the statement said: “We cannot confirm that there is no connection.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) asked why the ethics committee would end its investigation while Evans remained on the board.
“No one should be immune from accountability,” Cardin said. “I don’t understand why they would close an ethics investigation if he’s staying on the board.”
Cardin’s comments followed a Capitol Hill news conference where he and the Washington region’s other senators announced that they have filed a bill to increase the annual federal subsidy for Metro to $200 million from $150 million, on condition that the agency adopt new oversight and safety measures.
Reporters asked some of the senators about Evans.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said it was “probably a good idea” for any results of the Evans ethics investigation to be made public.
Metro has disclosed little information about the ethics probe, which it opened March 4. Crawford indicated that the investigation was triggered by a report in The Washington Post that Evans improperly cited his position as Metro board chairman in an email seeking clients for his private legal and consulting business.
“We have concluded our investigation,” Crawford told reporters. “We did a thorough review. We took our time. We looked at everything. . . . We have the ability to close the matter when it is resolved, and that’s what we’ve done.”
He declined to say anything about what the investigation found.
“The matter has been resolved. That’s as far as I’m going to go,” Crawford said.
Asked later about Crawford’s comments, Evans said, “This is all internal stuff. We’re not supposed to talk about internal stuff.”
A four-member committee was appointed to nominate a successor to Evans.
The Metro chairman is elected by the eight principal members of the agency’s board — two each from the District, Maryland, Virginia and the federal government. The board also includes eight alternates, or nonvoting members.
Evans has been mired in legal trouble at least since September regarding questions about how he operated at the crossroads of politics and business. Federal prosecutors are looking at his relationships with private legal and consulting clients.
In March, the D.C. Council formally reprimanded Evans and announced plans to dilute the power of the Finance and Revenue Committee, which he chairs. He faces a recall effort to remove him from his office as a Democratic council member representing Ward 2, which includes Georgetown and most of downtown.
Business proposals obtained by The Washington Post show that Evans repeatedly mixed his public service and his private business. In one 2018 email sent to Nelson Mullins, a law firm that had lobbied his office on behalf of a client just months before, Evans said that as a lawmaker and Metro chairman, he could engage in “cross-marketing my relationships and influence to Nelson Mullins clients.”
Metro’s code of ethics says that board members and other officers “shall endeavor to avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts of interest, [and] refrain from using their positions for personal profit or gain, or for any other personal advantage.”
Evans has been a high-profile, controversial Metro chairman since the board unanimously elected him to the position in January 2016. He drew criticism from top officials in Virginia and Maryland — including calls for his resignation from Hogan and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) — for his aggressive advocacy for the District’s interests and outspoken criticism of other jurisdictions for what he saw as inadequate attention to Metro’s financial needs.
“He has a way of communicating sometimes that can be challenging,” Cardin said. “I’m aware of the challenges he created. I believe he was passionate about Metro.”
But Metro achieved some successes during Evans’s tenure, such as winning a commitment of a total of $500 million a year in new dedicated funding from the District, Maryland and Virginia.
Evans also backed General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld’s accelerated rehabilitation campaign to repair and modernize Metro. Metro says the program is necessary to catch up on years of overdue maintenance, but the work also has led to service disruptions that have frustrated riders.
The repair effort appears to have helped Metro’s image, as its reputation in the region has improved dramatically in the past two years, according to a recent Washington Post-Schar School poll.
However, the survey also found that 40 percent of residents say they ride Metro less than they did five years ago, while only 16 percent say they ride it more often, a finding that corresponds with transit agency figures showing a substantial drop in ridership.
Wiedefeld said Evans and the rest of the board have been “very supportive . . . through some tough issues with us.” He declined to comment on the ethics probe, saying, “I haven’t been in that sandbox at all. That’s purely a board issue.”
Wiedefeld welcomed the long-awaited Metro funding bill. Without the federal subsidy, which ends this year if no new legislation is passed, Metro “would have to rethink the entire capital program,” he said.
That would mean delaying projects that Metro deems necessary for safety and maintenance, he said.
The bill’s principal sponsors include Cardin, Kaine and Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
The legislation would extend the decade-old federal funding program that has provided the transit agency with $150 million a year for another 10 years, on the condition that the money is matched by contributions of $50 million apiece from the District, Maryland and Virginia.
The bill also would increase the federal subsidy by $50 million a year on certain conditions, including that the office of Metro’s inspector general be strengthened and the Government Accountability Office given some oversight of Metro’s capital spending.