By Carten Cordell | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
McDonnell fired a salvo late last week when he asked MWAA Board of Directors member Dennis Martire to step down. Then the governor tried to replace him with Caren Merrick.
Martire was appointed by former Gov. Tim Kaine but had run afoul of McDonnell because of his ties to the Laborers International Union of North America. Martire’s name also appears in a U.S. Department of Transportation audit of the MWAA board in which analysts noted that Martire spent $38,000 on travel to five conferences for the MWAA.
Martire’s union ties became noteworthy in the battle between McDonnell and the MWAA board over a project labor agreement that favored organized labor on the $2.7-billion Phase 2 of the Silver Line metro project.
McDonnell opposed the PLA because Virginia is a right-to-work state, and threatened to withhold $150 million promised to the project to help cut toll rates on the Dulles Toll Road. The toll road is projected to fund $1.8 billion of Phase 2’s cost and could see significant hikes to pay for construction. The $150 million promised will be used to offset increases when the toll rates are set this fall.
MWAA voted to drop the PLA on June 6, and many believed the two parties when they said they had put aside their differences for the good of the project.
The good times are apparently over. Martire has filed a lawsuit in federal court, seeking an injunction to keep McDonnell from removing him from the board.
In a letter to Martin Kent, McDonnell’s chief of staff, Martire said he was asked to resign or told he would be removed from the board.
“I never violated any rules, and my behavior was consistent with that of other Board and staff members,” Martire said. “I do not believe that there is cause for my removal from the Board, and I ask that the Governor reconsider his course of action.”
The MWAA board will meet on Wednesday. The makeup of the board is on the agenda.
“Caren is very close to the governor, and she is going to represent his views and be a mouthpiece for his agenda,” Favola said. “I think she is, clearly, looking for something to do and the governor found this. But personally, I don’t think she brings a particular perspective or balance necessarily to the board. I think she is going to promote the governor’s views.”
Merrick’s appointment is seen as a positive for MWAA critics, who have had little success in seeing eye-to-eye with the board.
“Caren will bring a fresh face to the board,” said Dan Scandling, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-McLean. “(She) has a strong business background and knows the importance of getting this project completed on time and on budget.”
McDonnell spokesman Taylor Thornley also said Merrick’s private-sector successes would make her a strong addition to the board.
“Caren’s business acumen, technology background and history of public service will be an invaluable asset to the board and its endeavors,” Thornley said in an email.
Quentin Kidd, director of the director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, said Merrick’s addition wouldn’t be likely to sway board votes, but does bring another pro-McDonnell viewpoint to the room.
“It’s going to mean that voices that weren’t arguing the governor’s line now will be,” he said. “I imagine it will result in a shift in the way the board listens to the concerns of the governor. I don’t think it changes the voting dynamic on the board, but it does mean the board will have somebody sitting in front of them who will, in a very clear way, express the concerns the governor has and, by extension Virginia has.”
Whether McDonnell has the authority to remove a sitting member of the board before their term has expired will be at the center of the legal debate and can throw the Silver Line Phase 2 process into flux. Regardless of the outcome, relations between MWAA and the governor aren’t likely to improve.
“As far as I can tell (the debate) has never reached this level of acrimony,” Kidd said. “I think this is probably unprecedented, at least in Virginia history.”
Request for comment from Merrick were not returned late Monday afternoon.