THE BATTLE between the state of Virginia and the authority that controls Dulles and Reagan National airports is escalating beyond all logic and budgetary prudence.
The fight involves Richmond’s attempt to fire a member of the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority’s board, Dennis L. Martire, who has committed ethical lapses and shown poor judgment. The sensible outcome is for Mr. Martire to resign.
Instead, with just 16 months remaining in his six-year term, Mr. Martire is struggling to remain on the board, turning to the courts and running up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees that are being paid, on questionable grounds, by the authority. Virginia is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the effort to remove him.
The upshot is a litigious sideshow that is paralyzing the board and deepening public disenchantment, even as the board oversees construction of one of the nation’s biggest infrastructure projects — Metro’s $5.6 billion Silver Line extension to Dulles. In early June, former Virginia governor Timothy M. Kaine (D), who named Mr. Martire to the board, told him that his ongoing service was a distraction. Still, Mr. Martire refuses to go.
The board has addressed some of its other embarrassments, including insider contracts to former board members; extravagant travel and meal expenses such as those run up by Mr. Martire; and decisions taken without adequate transparency. It has canceled some insider contracts, revised its bylaws and drafted new ethics and travel policies.
But the board has so far been loath to take on Mr. Martire. To the contrary, it has hired Williams & Connolly, a prominent Washington law firm, to handle his litigation as he presses to remain on the board. Subpoenas are flying, court dates are multiplying and, since Mr. Martire’s status at the authority is uncertain, as is that of his putative replacement, his seat on the board is effectively vacant.
Mr. Martire, a union official who is one of 13 members of the airports authority’s board, spent $38,000 attending five conferences in 2010 and 2011, including one last year at a seaside resort on the Italian island of Sardinia that had nothing to do with U.S. airports. For that conference, he filed an expense claim of $10,586, most of it for a business-class air ticket.
The authority’s bylaws require that it cover the legal expenses of board members providing they conduct themselves in good faith and in the authority’s best interest. Mr. Martire has pointed out that he violated no board rules in his travel. But he also has provided no plausible justification for attending the conference.
In a recent letter to the authority, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, along with Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), expressed anger at the abuses at the authority board members, including those involving travel, and outlined a series of recommended reforms.
It will take more than Mr. Martire’s resignation to set things right. But as long as he remains on the board, running up huge legal expenses and poisoning relations among board members, it will be difficult to focus on the crucial job of finishing the rail to Dulles.