By Carten Cordell Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA — Dennis Martire’s decision to step down from the board of directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority next month effectively ended one of the ugliest chapters the authority has faced in its annus horriblis of 2012.
In a deal announced Wednesday, Martire returned to the MWAA board after three months of legal dueling to prevent an ouster by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, but will step down Oct. 17 to make room for new appointee, Caren Merrick.
Martire, who was appointed to the board by former Gov. Tim Kaine, became the de facto poster child for the controversy that has been swirling around MWAA for much of the year.
First, an inspector general’s report noted Martire’s travel expenditures among a blistering list of critiques about MWAA’s management.
Then a proposed project labor agreement for the construction of Phase 2 of the Silver Line project caused a schism between the authority and project partner Virginia. Martire’s role as a vice president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America was seen as a catalyst for the PLA, which McDonnell said violated the state’s right-to-work laws.
After MWAA voted down the PLA, McDonnell sought to remove Martire from the board in June, citing the travel expenses and PLA controversy as reasons. Martire sued to stay on the board and a litigious battle ensued until this week, with MWAA footing the bill for Martire’s legal fees.
After the settlement was announced, McDonnell released a statement applauding the conclusion of the dispute.
“We are happy to put this unnecessary and expensive distraction behind us and look forward to continuing to improve the accountability of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority,” the governor said in the statement. “We will continue to press for positive changes that are in the best interest of the taxpayers of Northern Virginia and all who rely on the critical transportation infrastructure MWAA manages.”
While MWAA loses one distraction, it still has plenty to tackle. The authority also passed a new ethics policy Wednesday, designed to allay the criticisms the board has faced from McDonnell, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Washington, D.C. mayor Vincent Gray and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.
But there is still the issue of funding for the Silver Line. To pay for the $2.69 billion it is projected to take to build Phase 2, MWAA has proposed toll rate hikes for the Dulles Toll Road to raise $1.66 billion over the next three years.
Those tolls have been met with criticism, but relief may be found with U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly’s, D-Annadale, proposal to use a federal loan program to provide some of the Phase 2 funding and ease the toll burden on motorists.
There is also lingering issue of the board’s composition. Legislation passed last year by Virginia and the federal government sought to increase the size of MWAA’s board, but a lack of corresponding legislation from the D.C. city council left the laws in limbo.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Manassas, sponsor of the expansion legislation, offered up a bill in August to reduce the size of the board from 13 members to nine. Both proposals were designed to give Virginia a larger number of appointed seats on the board. Wolf’s latest bill, HR 6356, has been referred to committee.
But while MWAA seeks to scale the mountain of discord that has emerged this year, the Martire settlement removes at least one large impediment.
Carten Cordell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org