Where's Michael? DC needs active WMATA Board members
At this morning's meeting of the WMATA Board Committee on Customer Service, Operations and Safety, DC Councilmember Jim Graham raised a procedural concern about voting that stemmed from the absence of alternate Board member and at-large Councilmember Michael Brown.
Under the committee's rules, other members from the jurisdiction (such as Graham) were not allowed to vote in his stead. Graham wanted to have two DC votes on the committee, since it has two DC members.
This year, the Board changed its procedures to create smaller committees. Last year, all members of the Board, principal and alternate members, were members of every committee. Most issues were resolved in committee meetings.
Now, only a few members are on each committee, including some of the alternate members. Anthony Giancola, the alternate member appointed by the DC executive branch, is the Vice-Chair of the committee, and Gordon Linton, the alternate member from Montgomery County, is also a member.
While Graham was just objecting to the voting process and didn't raise broader questions about Brown's attendance, we can raise them. Some of DC's members don't regularly participate. Michael Brown is almost never at Board meetings. His predecessor as the DC Council's alternate member, Marion Barry, also rarely attended.
Alternate members of the WMATA Board can't vote in the full meetings, but they still have a lot of influence. They can vote in committees, and can debate the issues with others. They can ask questions of staff at meetings and outside them. They have the opportunity to raise issues with the press and the public.
Councilmember Brown is missing a big opportunity to have influence over important policy and get exposure for himself. On the other hand, Councilmembers do have many responsibilities. If he doesn't feel it's a worthwhile use of his time, he should step down and the Council should appoint someone who does.
That seat doesn't have to go to a Councilmember at all. They could appoint a staff member, or a private citizen, the way Anthony Giancola is the alternate member for the administration but isn't actually in the administration. (DC has several great RAC members, for example, several of whom would make good Board members.)
There's also been talk for some time that Neil Albert wants to transition off the Board. He was appointed as the principal member from the executive branch when he was Deputy Mayor, but now he is City Administrator and has many responsibilities.
I've talked with Mr. Albert and he is extremely well versed in the issues facing Metro, and makes a good Board member. However, DC also needs members with the time to actually devote to the Board, and the City Administrator has a lot to manage.
One obvious possibility is Gabe Klein, head of DDOT. Klein's predecessor, Emeka Moneme, was the Board member before he left DDOT to work for WMATA (until the management shakeup). However, Jim Graham, the other voting member from DC, also oversees Klein's agency, potentially creating a problematic dynamic where sometimes Graham is probing decisions of the agency while at the same time they have to vote side by side on WMATA issues.
Another candidate to consider would be Harriet Tregoning, head of the Office of Planning. Tregoning has considerable transportation experience. She chaired the Scenario Study Task Force at TPB which created the bus priority TIGER grant proposal which was recently funded. That job required herding an often-fractious set of local jurisdictions to collaborate in an unprecedented way to create a transportation plan and apply as a single group for funding.
I've also seen Tregoning's handling of NCPC meetings, where she sits on that board. At the meeting in July 2008, for example, she did an excellent job diplomatically representing DC's interests on technical zoning matters (scroll to the bottom). Her demonstrated ability to work with regional and federal partners would make her an excellent representative to represent DC and protect DC's needs while also promoting regional cooperation and a regional view of transportation.
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