Virginia has formally called on the Metro board to make public the findings of its ethics investigation of board chairman Jack Evans, saying disclosure was necessary for “accountability and transparency.”
In a unanimous vote, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission on Thursday evening took the first official action to pressure Metro over the probe, which the board’s ethics committee recently closed without explanation, saying the results would not be released.
Although the commission did not mention Evans (D) by name, it approved a letter to the Metro board that referred to a May 23 Washington Post report about the Evans inquiry.
“The conduct that necessitated the ethics investigation raises concerns about the behavior of a Board member,” the letter said.
“Releasing a report on the findings of the Ethics Committee’s recently closed investigation will demonstrate [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s] commitment to accountability and transparency and help the agency bolster the public’s confidence,” it said.
The transportation commission is composed of state and local elected officials and is responsible for managing state and regional funding for Metro, Virginia Railway Express and six Northern Virginia bus systems. It has 21 members and four alternates.
The move to pressure the Metro board was initiated by Republican commission members but had the support of Democrats.
Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R), a Loudoun County supervisor, said it was “very concerning” that the Metro board’s four-member ethics committee had not briefed anyone, including the rest of the Metro board, about the investigation.
“We’re trying to bring some sunlight to the discussion,” Letourneau said.
Sharon Bulova (D), chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said: “We know there was a review and investigation of something. We don’t know what it was about. . . . We want to know what the subject was, and we want to know what the outcome was.”
Evans, a D.C. Council member for Ward 2, faces legal and political troubles on several fronts, primarily over whether he used his official positions to solicit business for his private legal and consulting work.
Federal prosecutors are investigating Evans’s relationships with clients, the D.C. Council has formally reprimanded him, and he faces a recall vote in his district, which includes Georgetown and most of downtown.
Evans has declined to comment on the Metro investigation, saying it is an internal matter. Metro staffers also have declined to comment.
The board’s ethics committee opened its probe in March. Committee chair Clarence W. Crawford, a board member who represents Maryland, has indicated that the investigation was triggered by a report in The Post that Evans improperly cited his position as Metro board chairman in an email seeking clients for his private business.
On May 23, Evans announced that he would not seek reelection as board chairman when his term ends June 30. That day, Crawford said the committee had closed its investigation.
While Evans, who plans to remain on the board, said his decision not to seek reelection had nothing to do with the ethics investigation, Crawford said he could not confirm that.
Crawford also repeatedly declined to say anything about the probe, except that it had been “resolved” and “closed” and that nothing more would be released to the public.
Later that day, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Evans was “so ethically compromised” that he should resign from the board.
On May 24, two Metro board members who are not on the ethics committee, Christian Dorsey, who represents Virginia, and Michael Goldman, who represents Maryland, said the results of the investigation should be made public. Dorsey is a member of the transportation commission, but he was not present for Thursday’s vote. Letourneau said Dorsey supported the action.
Metro board member Paul Smedberg, who is a member of the panel’s ethics committee, also is a member of the transportation commission. Smedberg, who is a front-runner to succeed Evans as chairman, was not at Thursday’s commission meeting, but Letourneau said he was aware that the Evans matter would be up for discussion.
The transportation commission’s letter to the Metro board requested “that the Ethics Committee make public information related to the investigation’s findings, outcomes, recommendations, and actions, including but not limited to relevant documentation, records, meeting minutes and supporting materials.”
The commission linked its action to Virginia’s financial support for Metro, including its backing of last year’s historic agreement with the District and Maryland to provide the transit system with $500 million a year in new, dedicated funding.
“In return for the investment that Virginia’s local and state government and taxpayers are making to WMATA, there must be accountability and transparency,” the letter said. “When serious allegations are made and an investigation conducted, the results must be disclosed to the greatest extent possible and the public must be assured that appropriate action has been taken.”