Metro is facing challenges on multiple fronts, and a potential conflict of interest at the tri-state agency’s highest levels could fall through the cracks.
Until recently Metro’s board chairman, Mortimer Downey, was on the payroll of a firm paid $81 million by Metro. The firm, Parsons Brinckerhoff, was involved in the construction of the Silver Spring Transit Center, which finally opened last week, five years late and $50 million over budget. Both Metro and Montgomery County, Md. are suing the company.
“Although Downey has said that his approximately $100,000-a-year job as a part-time ‘senior adviser’ to Parsons Brinckerhoff was approved by Metro’s general counsel – and that he ended his 10-year relationship with the company three months ago – the Metro board’s ethics committee has received a conflict-of-interest complaint from the D.C. Office of the Inspector General,” the Washington Post reported.
The matter is now before Metro’s ethics committee, which meets infrequently and behind closed doors. The issue came to light when the ethics committee’s agenda was, apparently inadvertently, briefly posted on the agency’s website, where a reporter saw it.
Before settling on Metro’s ethics committee, DC’s Inspector General brought the complaint to the General Services Administration (which appointed Downey to one of Metro’s four federally appointed board seats) and Metro’s inspector general, but both declined to pursue it, Metro board member Michael Goldman told the Post.
With Downey recusing himself from the ethics committee as it investigates his potential conflict of interest, Goldman, a Md. appointee, will serve as chair. He’s joined by three other members, including DC’s representative, Jack Evans, a councilmember with a checkered history when it comes to his own conflicts of interest.
Evans is DC’s longest-serving councilmember and chair of the powerful finance and revenue committee. Until this past January, he was also on the payroll of the influential lobbying firm Patton Boggs, where he earned $190,000 a year, over and above his $125,000 council salary, which led to potential and actual conflicts of interest.
If Evans and one other ethics committee member vote not to sanction Downey, in what’s likely to be a closed-door meeting, the issue could quietly fall by the wayside.