WHEN QUESTIONS were raised last month about a consulting contract given to Metro’s former general counsel, transit officials moved quickly to end the arrangement. However, they refused to release a copy of the contract or provide any information about payment terms. Clearly, they hoped the whole matter would be quickly forgotten. “My view is we move on,” said Metro board chairman Mortimer L. Downey. Now new details about the contract have emerged, and they raise even more troubling questions.
At issue is a consulting contract given to Metro’s then-general counsel Kathryn Pett on Jan. 23, the same day she resigned from Metro. Documents recently obtained by The Post’s Lori Aratani show that Metro had agreed to pay Ms. Pett $311,300. Ms. Pett’s 2014 salary as general counsel was nearly $203,000. In addition to what was essentially a one-day jump in pay of $108,000, Ms. Pett was also slated to receive about $36,000 for travel expenses between Utah, where she had returned for family reasons, and Washington. The contract was canceled after concerns were voiced by new members of the Metro board as well as Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn; Ms. Pett received $152,261.70 for her work, including $3,417.60 to reimburse canceled airline reservations.
Metro officials had justified the contract as necessary because of what they said were Ms. Pett’s unique skills in helping Metro address problems identified in a Federal Transit Administration oversight review. Given that Ms. Pett had been Metro’s general counsel for just 18 months, and Washington is not known for its lack of lawyers, it’s hard to believe a replacement couldn’t have been found. Surely an organization the size of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has more than one lawyer in its employ. Does Ms. Pett’s departure now mean the agency won’t be able to settle the FTA issues that are interfering with its access to federal funds?
Metro officials haven’t been exactly forthcoming. After initially refusing to provide information about Ms. Pett’s contract, the records grudgingly released to The Post through Metro’s public access to records policy redacted information used in the formulation of Ms. Pett’s pay rate. Officials said the contract was thoroughly vetted. But, as a Metro spokesman clarified to us, Interim General Manager Jack Requa had no role in approving the contract and, in fact, was not comfortable with a long-distance employee. That means the board and its top leaders were the ones who thought it was a good idea to pay someone a lot more to do a lot less. Given that they are the ones who are supposed to be fixing Metro’s problems, that’s a disturbing conclusion.