Congress created the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in 1986, to run Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports. The 13 political appointees on the MWAA board represent elected officials from Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and the federal government in matters involving the two airports and the $6 billion Silver Line project. This arrangement is supposed to provide indirect accountability to the public, but it's not working very well.
Case in point: the fierce resistance encountered by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell when he removed union leader Dennis Martire "for cause," replaced him with McLean businesswoman Caren Merrick and named two new appointees as the Congress recently allowed him to do. Not one of the three has been seated, even though a Fairfax Circuit Court judge ruled last week that the governor acted within his legal authority to remove Martire.
A Department of Transportation inspector general's report criticized MWAA board members for questionable expenses, prompting Chairman Michael Curto to suspend most international travel. Martire, appointed by former Gov. Tim Kaine, was one of the worst offenders, billing MWAA $9,000 for a single airline ticket and $10,586 for a nine-day trip to a luxurious seaside resort in Sardinia to attend a 36-hour conference on "small regional airports in Europe."
Martire, vice president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, was also instrumental in getting MWAA to adopt a project labor agreement for Phase 2 of Dulles Rail, in direct conflict with Virginia's right-to-work laws. MWAA dropped the PLA only when McDonnell threatened to withhold $150 million from the project. But Martire's promulgation of a policy beneficial to him professionally, but harmful to the contractors in the jurisdiction he represents, was a clear conflict of interest.
An MWAA spokeswoman claimed that "removal of a sitting board member whose term has not expired is an unprecedented act." This sudden preoccupation with legal niceties is peculiar. Two of MWAA's presidential appointees, William Cobey Jr. and Robert Brown, still vote even though their terms expired in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The same board allowed former D.C. member Mamadi Diane to vote by proxy from home confinement on the Ivory Coast, long after his term expired in 2009.
There's something very wrong when out-of-staters with expired appointments can continue to make crucial decisions affecting Virginians, even as their sitting governor's appointees are blocked from taking their proper place at the table.