Airport board delays decision on ousted member

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Local,Transportation,Liz Essley

The airports authority in charge of the $6 billion Dulles Rail project put off a decision on its latest union-related controversy Wednesday, saying it will wait for advice from the Fairfax County Circuit Court.

The authority filed a lawsuit with the court Monday, asking for a judge to decide who should fill its now-vacant board seat: Dennis Martire, a union executive who was ousted from the airports authority by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell last week, or Caren Merrick, a McLean businesswoman McDonnell appointed to replace Martire.

"My colleagues and I all agree on a matter as complex and important as this, we should be guided by timely, legally sound decision from a court," said Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Chairman Michael Curto. "We do not want to debate this question in the media."

McDonnell removed Martire after reports surfaced that he had flown to Prague and Sardinia for lavish conferences on the authority's dime. McDonnell also cited Martire's possible conflict of interest on union issues given his job as vice president of the Laborers' International Union of North America.

Martire sued McDonnell, saying the governor illegally interfered in authority affairs.

"The governor has reached his long arm into our authority as an autonomous board to serve our terms. He's trying to make us at-will employees," Martire told The Washington Examiner on Wednesday.

Martire defended his record on the board.

"It was in compliance with all of MWAA's policies and procedures," he said. "If you go back in time and you look at all the MWAA travel over the years, you'll see that mine is minuscule to others."

He blamed the governor for causing millions of dollars' worth of delays on the construction of the second phase of Metro's Silver Line to Washington Dulles International Airport.

"When politics gets involved, this is how it gets messed up," Martire said. "If you look at the cost overruns we're going to have right now moving into Phase II because of the delays the governor has put up -- withholding his $150 million, putting up roadblock after roadblock. It's delayed our project. Delays cost money."

Board member and fellow Virginia appointee Tom Davis said he thinks the authority needs to avoid further distractions.

"I'm out here to try to get this rail system built," he said. "With whoever the members are, we're going to work through this issue, we're going to work with Loudoun [County], we're going to get this thing funded."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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