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Airports board to debate insider contract, disputed legal fees

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Photo - (Examiner file photo)
(Examiner file photo)
Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

The embattled airports board in charge of the $6 billion Dulles Rail project on Wednesday is expected to discuss a $180,000 insider contract, in its first meeting since controversy erupted over the hiring of a former board member.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board of Directors is set to discuss the issue after it received a scathing rebuke from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood for insider contracts and lax ethics policies.

Authority board members promised to cancel contracts with former board members but have yet to say whether they will fire Mame Reiley, a former board member and chairwoman who was hired as a senior adviser and given a $180,000 salary the day after she resigned from the board for health reasons. Reiley has breast cancer.

The board is also set to discuss how much to pay in legal fees for board member Dennis Martire, whom Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell tried to remove from the board earlier this year, but who is challenging the ouster in court. The authority already has paid $75,000 in fees.

Martire says board policy dictates that the authority pay board members' legal fees that are related to their authority service.

"The current legal proceedings involve the governor's attempt to take away my status as a director. As stated in court filings submitted on my behalf, I believe that the governor's actions are not authorized by law and interfere with the operations of MWAA," Martire said.

Board members Tom Davis, Frank Conner and Todd Stottlemeyer demanded the board cap payment for Martire's fees in an August letter to board Chairman Michael Curto.

"Mr. Martire is now using his indemnification as a sword, racking up legal costs likely already in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and likely to go much higher," they wrote. "We are in essence funding our own destruction."

The authority now may be on the hook for even more legal fees after lawyers for Martire issued subpoenas to several other board members, who now have lawyers to answer the subpoenas.

The board frequently discusses legal and personnel matters in closed-door sessions -- another source of criticism from top leaders, who have pressured the authority to be more open.

"This stuff should be dealt with in the open and in the public domain so everyone is aware of what is being spent for lawyer fees. There should be nothing done in a backroom hidden behind an executive session or out of the public eye," said Dan Scandling, chief of staff for Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a frequent critic of the airports board.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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