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Dulles board to discuss new union controversy

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Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

The board in charge of the $6 billion Dulles Rail line will decide Wednesday how to deal with its latest political dispute over union power.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board is set to discuss Gov. Bob McDonnell's ousting of board member and union executive Dennis Martire from the authority, even as the board awaits advice from the courts on whether it must obey the governor.

Martire filed a lawsuit last week challenging the governor's order to remove him. The authority filed its own lawsuit Monday, asking the Fairfax County Circuit Court to decide who should get the board seat -- Martire or McDonnell's new appointee, Caren Merrick, a McLean businesswoman and failed state Senate candidate.

"Because the legal basis upon which the governor acted is disputed and uncertain, it is unclear whether the removal action was valid," the authority's lawsuit reads.

It will likely be months before a judge rules, a court official said.

But Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton on Tuesday called the authority's lawsuit unwarranted.

"It's incredulous that MWAA is fighting to keep a Board member who took a $11,000 vacation using public funds," Connaughton said in an email to The Washington Examiner. "The MWAA Board should be demanding his removal, not defending him."

McDonnell said he removed Martire, an appointee of former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine, because Martire's position with a labor union caused a conflict of interest. He also cited a federal investigator's report that Martire racked up questionable expenses -- including a $9,000 plane ticket to a conference in Prague. The Washington Post reported on another trip, costing nearly $11,000, to Sardinia.

An airports authority official said both Martire and Merrick would be given board documents at the meeting Wednesday, but neither would vote or participate in discussions.

The controversy is the latest to hit the authority, which voted earlier this month to drop a union-friendly labor provision on the second phase of the Dulles Rail project following objections from state and local officials and McDonnell's threat to withhold state funding.

Martire's lawsuit accused McDonnell of unlawfully interfering in a regional authority's business.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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