Task force urges change in Metro board structure
A task force launched by a leading Washington business groups and council of local elected officials is recommending a sweeping change in the governance of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority -- giving added clout to the governors of Maryland and Virginia and to the mayor of Washington.
Contending that flaws in Metro's governance structure are "contributing to its decline," the panel issued a report Wednesday in which it urged creation of a new WMATA Governance Commission to hold the Metro board itself accountable.
The task force, set up by the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, recommended that the commission include the two governors and the District of Columbia's mayor but conspicuously omitted any role for the governments of the counties surrounding Washington. Other commission members would be the chairs of the Washington Suburban Transiit Commission, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the District of Columbia Council, as well as the chief of the federal General Services Administration.
Among other changes the task force recommended:
--Elimination of the position of alternate board members.
--Letting the three jurisdictions and federal government choose the most qualified board members, whether or not they are elected offciaials
--Alllowing the commission to choose a chairman who isn't a board member, set up a compensation structure for that official, and to increase the chairman's term to four years. Currently the board chairman is selected by other board members for a one-year term.
On one of the most sensitive aspects of WMATA's governance, the task force punted. It left the decision on whether to keep the ability of any one jurisdiction to veto WMATA to the three jurisdictions, urging only that they "give serious consideration to eliminating it entirely."
WMATA critics have long contended that the ability of board members from either state or the District to veto policies hampers the system's flexibility.
U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., praised the task force's work, saying it made "several commonsense recommendations to improve the management of Metro’s operations.'
A less generous observer might wonder whether the task force's recommendations would leave WMATA in an even greater muddle than already exists -- with both a board and a "super board" for the professional staff to answer to. The enhanced role for the chairman seems to have the potential to institutionalize rivalry with the general manager.
One could also wonder whether the governors and the mayor have sufficient time in their schedules to function as commission members or whether they would have to operate through surrogates.
Since the governor of Maryland and the mayor of Washington are Democrats and the governor of Virginia is a Republican, it is difficult to imagine circumstances under which the Commonwealth would give up the veto. A copy of the fulll board report can be found here.