Changes to Metro board written into local laws

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Editors' note: This story has been modified to clarify a sentence about the jurisdictions' policies on board members holding elected office. The original sentence could be read two ways.

The rules governing Metro's board of directors are undergoing another round of reforms, as term limits, attendance standards and other new regulations become local laws.

The D.C. Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a set of new rules for the 16-seat board of directors at the transit agency, the last piece of a three-way agreement to reform the board. Virginia passed similar standards last spring, which took effect in July, while Maryland codified its version in May.

Each jurisdiction and the federal government can appoint four directors to the Metro board, two of them as principals and two as alternates. However, the federal government's four seats are not undergoing any formal changes, according to General Services Administration spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara.

The new laws share many similarities, all attempts to turn around the agency in the wake of harsh criticism stemming from the deadly 2009 Fort Totten train crash. Yet even without the legal changes, the makeup of the board has changed dramatically. Only three members who served during the crash are still on the board, and federal appointees have been added to the mix as part of an unrelated funding deal. The board has passed some ethics reforms and lengthened the term of the chairmanship.

Yet some of the recommended reforms required legal changes, including new term limits that restrict board members to no more than two consecutive four-year terms.

All three jurisdictions also will require that board members use Metro, after past board members were frequently criticized for not using the system they govern despite getting free ride-for-life Metro cards. None of the new laws sets specific standards for how much board members must use the transit system, though. Maryland and Virginia both use the term "regular" in defining the frequency of use, but the District mentions no qualifiers of any kind.

Under the new laws, board members are supposed to have experience in at least one related field, such as transit planning, engineering, public safety, human resources or the law, but cannot have worked for Metro for at least one year. Maryland now bans anyone who currently holds elected office, though D.C. and Virginia directors have frequently held office during their terms.

All three laws require board members to report on their attendance at Metro meetings and agency-related events, plus provide reasons for absences. Virginia's law goes a step further and allows for the removal of any member who attends fewer than three-quarters of the meetings in a calendar year.

Absenteeism had been a perennial problem. The Washington Examiner detailed high absentee rates for some board members in 2010, including D.C. Councilman Michael Brown, who missed 66 percent of 79 committee and board meetings. He no longer serves on the transit board.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner