The penalties and formal reprimand of Dorsey (D) came two days after he easily won reelection to the Arlington County Board, which he chairs. Voters did not know of his late disclosure, which The Washington Post was first to report, when they went to the polls Tuesday.
The board’s public action at a three-minute-long special meeting was in contrast with the prolonged, private ethics investigation in the spring that led to the resignation of the board’s chairman, D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). Board members said they felt pressure to move decisively in part because of intensified public scrutiny after the Evans controversy.
Dorsey said he accepted the board action, which was recommended by its four-member ethics committee.
“The ethics committee determines in its wisdom what is appropriate,” Dorsey said. “I believe in that process, so I accept their judgment.”
He told The Post earlier that the disclosure delay was “simply an oversight” for which he took responsibility.
Current Metro board chairman Paul Smedberg said he asked Dorsey to return the $10,000 donation from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689. The union represents most of Metro’s workforce and is preparing for a major battle with management over the latter's plans to privatize operations of Phase 2 of the Silver Line.
Dorsey agreed Wednesday to return the donation. He said doing so would “probably” leave his campaign in debt.
Dorsey did not participate in the board vote to reprimand him, which was unanimous, and he did not attend other board committee meetings Thursday.
“I thought it best for them to do the process without my being there,” Dorsey said. “I didn’t want to do the awkward dance of hanging out in the lobby.”
Dorsey received the union donation on June 21 and reported it to Virginia authorities in accordance with state campaign finance law. It was one of the two largest contributions he received this year, the other being a $10,000 contribution from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
But he waited until Oct. 30 to report the ATU Local 689 contribution to Metro.
The board resolution said that because of the reporting lapse, “Dorsey participated in several matters as a Board Member from which he should have recused himself during the period June 21, 2019 to October 30, 2019.”
Smedberg said Dorsey had participated improperly in three “high-level briefings” on contracting matters, all held in executive session, where no board action was taken.
“The Board reprimands Mr. Dorsey for violating the Board Code of Ethics by failing to timely disclose the Local 689 campaign contribution and failing to recuse himself from Board matters where Local 689 had an interest,” the board resolution said.
Dorsey said he recalled two discussions, but not a third, where recusal could have been warranted. In one of them, which concerned the Cinder Bed garage in Lorton, Va., where a strike is underway, he said he left the conversation.
In the other, he said he spoke because he believed the discussion was “not necessarily about the union per se but about issues related to privatization.”
He said he expressed his belief that “privatization can certainly have a role in the working of any business if it is bringing efficiencies and innovation that you can’t currently provide. . . . But if the way that privatization works, from a cost savings standpoint, is to do the same thing that you’re doing, but degrade the living standards of the people who do it, then that’s a different conversation.”
Instead of chairing the Finance and Capital Committee, Dorsey will now be a member of the Safety and Operations Committee. Board member Steve McMillin, who represents the federal government, will take over chairmanship of the finance committee.
Although Thursday's public meeting was brief, it followed three closed meetings of the ethics committee, conducted via conference call, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and one of the entire board on Tuesday. Dorsey participated in the Wednesday call.
After the vote on the Dorsey resolution, Smedberg spoke to the board about the importance of respecting the rules.
“Before we conclude, I want to remind everyone that the code of ethics exists to assure the highest degree of confidence and public trust in [Metro],” he said. “Board members present and future shall abide by both the letter and the spirit of the code of ethics.”
Asked what lesson he drew, Dorsey said: “Even administrative errors or process errors, however you define them, have consequences, and I needed to be more diligent in making sure I dotted all i’s and crossed all t’s, and it’s a lesson well learned.”