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Alexandria official issues unusual public apology for Metro entrance scandal

Alexandria city manager Mark Jinks (Patricia Sullivan/Washington Post)

Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks apologized to residents Thursday in an extraordinary public letter, saying the city failed to keep them up to date on the loss of one entrance to the planned Potomac Yard Metro station.

The south entrance was cut because of rising costs last summer. But city officials did not inform the public because they believed a confidentiality agreement with Metro prohibited them from discussing it.

When residents learned of the loss of the entrance in May, they became enraged and accused both city staff and elected officials of lying to them.

Jinks, who has been city manager since 2015 and was chief financial officer for 16 years before that, said he was sorry “that we did not live up to the standards we set and our community expects.”

“We believed we were prohibited from informing the public of cost-saving design changes. It now appears there was a critical misunderstanding about what could be released,” Jinks wrote in the letter, which was published Thursday in two local weekly newspapers and distributed through various local email lists.

“In hindsight, City staff and I should have pressed harder to clarify the basis for keeping the design changes confidential. This would have allowed us to have a more informed conversation about communicating changes to the public.”

Jinks sent a lengthier letter June 5 to a group that sought documents on the controversy through the open-records law. City spokesman Craig Fifer said Thursday that while the earlier letter was more of a chronology of the episode, this time Jinks wanted to “reiterate the sense of regret he previously expressed.”

Adrien Lopez, who leads the group that is seeking city and Metro records of the decision, said her group’s response is “thank you for the apology, but what about concrete steps toward your commitment to southern access?”

“We want the return of southern access,” she said.

The Metro station, when it is built, will have entrances on the east and west side of the station. The south entrance, on the west side, was about one-third of a mile from the north entrance but closer to many new condos and townhouses.

The north entrance is closer to what is planned to be commercial redevelopment.

The outcry over the issue may have contributed to the primary defeat last week of Alexandria City Council member Paul Smedberg (D), who has been the city’s representative to the Metro board.

After Metro published a drawing that showed the station without a south entrance, residents began asking questions and Smedberg’s office told them the drawing was in error.

It was not, but Smedberg said he believed at the time he was not allowed to talk about the entrance’s elimination.