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Metro board member wants to delay vote on committee restructuring

Commuters board a train during the morning rush at the Metro Center station in Washington on June 12, 2017. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

A Metro board member representing Maryland wants to to postpone a vote Thursday on a proposed overhaul of the panel’s committee structure, saying it hasn’t been given enough consideration and would give too much power to alternate members.

The restructuring, conceived in private discussions and outlined in board documents posted online Monday, would cut the number of board committees from seven to four. It would create a new executive committee consisting of the board chair, vice chair and four committee heads — who could be voting or alternate members. It also would extend the term of board chairman Jack Evans from a year to 18 months by realigning board elections to match the agency’s fiscal calendar — though Evans says the board is free to otherwise elect a chair to a six-month term from January to July, when the new officer elections would take place.

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Board member Michael Goldman, who is chair of the panel’s finance committee, but would surrender the position under the restructuring, says it’s too soon to vote on major structural changes that were just unveiled. Goldman outlined his concerns in a board-wide email addressed to Evans earlier this week.

Goldman would be named vice chair of the safety committee under the new structure.

“I would encourage the Governance Committee to defer action on these changes this month to allow the Jurisdictions time to review them and consider their implications for the operation of the Board and whether consistent with their view of governance under [Metro’s governing] Compact,” Goldman wrote. “With their comments in hand, we can consider the changes in September. If the Committee approves them in the current form, I will have to vote against the By-law changes at the board meeting.”

Board rules allow two voting members from a jurisdiction to reject a resolution using what is called a “jurisdictional veto,” but such a measure wouldn’t come into play until the changes advanced to a full board vote.

WAMU was first to report on Goldman’s concerns about Thursday’s preliminary vote in a meeting of the board’s governance committee.

Under the new structure, four committees would inherit the responsibilities of the seven current Metro board committees: Finance and Budget; Safety and Service Delivery; Business Oversight; and Capital and Strategic Planning.

Metro board member Corbett A. Price, who represents the District and chairs the governance committee, said in a message that Thursday’s vote is expected proceed as planned.

Evans said the proposal resulted from discussions during an April board retreat and a Boston Consulting Group report to the board in June. He said because the talks have been underway for months, and because board members representing the jurisdictions participated, he did not think they needed further deliberation beyond what will be discussed by the board.

Evans, a frequent critic of the board’s “alternate” member designation, said he did not expect the jurisdictions to reopen the Metro compact and streamline the board on their own. So, he said, the board came up with its own version of an overhaul.

“Given the board is under such criticism for being dysfunctional,” he said, “There are a lot of ideas. One of them is that alternates and voting members should be treated the same because for all intents and purposes because they are.”

Will the changes proposed be enough satisfy those who are pressing for a major overhaul to the board?

“Who knows,” Evans said. “It should be. It should go a long way towards that.”

But in an interview Wednesday, Goldman said he believes the restructuring would give too much power to the alternates, in defiance of the compact governing the transit agency.

“I think the eight voting members have been appointed by the jurisdictions to … make the hard, tough decisions,” Goldman said. “In general the chairs of those committees should be voting members.”

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The region has been engaged in a months-long discussion over how to overhaul the agency’s governance, which has long been criticized as unwieldy and overly complicated, given the voting and alternate designations and the multi-jurisdictional structure.

The changes proposed by the board according to the meeting documents appear to fall short, keeping the current structure of eight voting and eight alternate members who represent D.C., Maryland, Virginia and the federal government. A plan proposed by Maryland officials for example, calls for a streamlined board consisting of the Maryland and Virginia transportation secretaries and the District’s director of transportation. A 2-1 vote would be sufficient to pass a resolution and there would be no jurisdictional veto, so a lone locality’s dissent could not halt a measure’s passage. The Federal City Council, an influential civic and business group, has called for a streamlined board consisting of transit or management experts, who do not have divided loyalties to Metro and the jurisdictions it serves.

Under the plan to be discussed Thursday, officer elections would be moved from January to July to align with Metro’s fiscal year, which begins July 1. The restructuring creates the potential for Evans and vice chair Keturah D. Harley to serve out 18-month terms, or for new chairs to be appointed to six-month terms in January.

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In his email to Evans, Goldman said having a potential executive slate made up mostly of alternate members made a “mockery” of principles outlined in the Metro compact. Goldman went on to say that he supports a streamlined committee structure and does not object to moving officer elections to July, though he took issue with language potentially allowing for an 18-month board chair term.

“I do not expect to serve as Finance Committee chair indefinitely ( change is good),” Goldman wrote, “but I do expect to serve as chair of a standing committee or on the Exec Committee as a voting Director of MD.”

In his email response to Goldman, Evans pressed for urgent action on the structural changes, but said he’d be willing to work with Goldman on amendments during the process.

“We need to take action on these items this month. We’ve talked about this for 3 months and any delay will only further the perception that the board can’t even organize ourselves, “he said. “You have been named the vice chair of the Safety Committee which is an important role.  I’m happy to work with you on further amendments beyond those agreed to above.”