Greater Greater Washington

Transit


Virginia Board members stand up for openness

Amid the budget debates at the WMATA Board yesterday, three of the Virginia members took an important stand for transparency and public involvement by pushing for early release of the proposed budget.


Mayor Euille. Photo by M.V. Jantzen.

At their last meeting, the Board asked staff to release the budget for all to see at or before yesterday's meeting. But by the time the meeting was underway, the budget was still not out. Chris Zimmerman of Arlington asked why it wasn't in their packets and wasn't posted online.

Staff replied that then-Chairman Jim Graham and presumptive Chairman Peter Benjamin (who was later elected Chairman) asked for the budget to be moved to the executive session for the Board to discuss before public release. Alexandria Mayor William Euille, one of the alternate members, thought that was inappropriate, and said so.

Supevisor Catherine Hudgins, the principal member from Fairfax County, pointed out that the Board had asked for public release. Also, she added, "this is the General Manager's budget," and as such shouldn't go just to the Board but to everyone.

Graham and Benjamin had no objection to releasing the budget, and ordered staff to do so while taking the budget off the executive session agenda. It took until the end of the day, however. One day, in this situation, doesn't make much difference, but it's a remnant of that persistent mentality that the Board should filter budget information before the public sees it.

Had the budget been presented in executive session, the Board might also have discussed their views on the budget in that session. We deserve to hear Board members' views on issues that aren't strictly about legal or personnel matters, which the budget is not.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Man. I don't actually know anything about Jim Graham but he sounds like an old man that needs to go. He just changes things around any way he wants any time he wants? What kind of corruption is that?

by James on Jan 29, 2010 1:36 pm • linkreport

Applause to Chris Zimmerman, Cathy Hudgins and William Euille. If I remember correctly, the WMATA Board adopted a version of an Open Public Meetings Act. Anyone know where that might be online?

It is very disturbing that the proposed budget was slated for discussion in private session.

by Dennis Jaffe on Jan 29, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport

Man, does Zimmerman ever do anything wrong?

by eleventh on Jan 29, 2010 1:52 pm • linkreport

@eleventh

He hasn't pushed ART to put data on Google Transit or demanded bus lanes or bus priority at light signals, as far as I know.

by James on Jan 29, 2010 1:54 pm • linkreport

Holy for crying out loud. I don't remember having seen this part before:
VI. Executive (Closed) Sessions of the Board

Such topics include, but are not limited to, the following:
A. Budgetary matters before such details become public in actions by the Board ...

by Dennis Jaffe on Jan 29, 2010 1:55 pm • linkreport

"...the untimely disclosure of which
may be detrimental to the Authority.

"Executive sessions are not to be scheduled in all instances where the above subjects are involved, but only where a discussion of one or more of those subjects would include confidential or proprietary subject matter, or where the untimely disclosure of information at a public session may be detrimental to the Authority."

Please explain how having the board discuss the budget in closed session hours before it was to be released to the public, with no official action to be taken, prevented a detriment to the authority.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 29, 2010 2:00 pm • linkreport

@Michael -- Let me and everyone know if you receive a response to that!

by Dennis Jaffe on Jan 29, 2010 2:01 pm • linkreport

James, I'll give you that, though he is a huge bus proponent. Still, in the field of local leaders, he's got to be TOD and Transit's best ally.

I'm not one to swoon over politicians, but it seems like whenever I track what's doing, he's always taking the path I think is the best choice.

by eleventh on Jan 29, 2010 3:13 pm • linkreport

It's bad to discuss the budget in secret for no reason. It's far worse to discuss this budget in secret for no reason. With this much pain coming down the pike, there's no excuse for avoiding a public discussion on how to handle it. The turnout at the meeting this week definitely proved that the public is interested.

by Dan Miller on Jan 29, 2010 4:47 pm • linkreport

I made sure to thank my mayor, Mayor Euille, for this effort. Hope others in VA will send this to their representatives as well. Would like to push them more for this kind of thing and perhaps some positive reinforcement will help.

by timfry on Jan 29, 2010 9:16 pm • linkreport

it's a remnant of that persistent mentality that the Board should filter budget information before the public sees it.

Yeah, cuz the public is probably not smart enough to understand the budget and would panic!

This is despicable. Public Boards should use 'executive' sessions very sparingly. In fact, there should not be rules for its usage, because only emergencies are an appropriate time for executive sessions. There are elected representatives. By definition, they can not have anything to hide.

by Jasper on Jan 30, 2010 3:07 pm • linkreport

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