Greater Greater Washington

Delinquent Board members open thread

I'm taking it easy for August, but that shouldn't stop you from discussing the key issues of the day.


Solomon and Brown. Images from WMATA.

Kytja Weir delved into the attendance records of WMATA Board members, a subject we've pushed on here in the past. Marcel Solomon, the Prince George's alternate, has missed over half of meetings, including meetings on key Prince George's economic development issues.

Meanwhile, Solomon was also the highest paid Board member, receiving $39,000 for his service. Only Maryland's members receive any significant compensation directly for serving on the Board, according to the Examiner. But compensation isn't at all correlated with attendance. Virginia's voting members, Chris Zimmerman and Catherine Hudgins, have the best attendance records.

DC needs members that attend meetings to represent its interests. Councilmember Michael Brown, one of DC's alternates, has the worst record on the Board, missing two-thirds of meetings and improving of late to missing only half. Neil Albert, the voting representative of the Mayor, missed 28% of full meetings and 29% of committees.

Alternate members may not vote at the full Board, but they participate in meetings and vote in committee. Both roles are very important. At a time when Metro needs strong oversight, the alternate members are a key part of that oversight.

And for Albert, a principal voting member, attendance is even more crucial. Albert told the Examiner that he makes sure DC's voting is covered, but there's a lot more than voting; the principal members negotiated over the fare increases, for example, and in several areas DC got a bad deal in the final negotiations, perhaps partly because its team wasn't fully at the table.

In other Metro news, the agency has agreed to post phone numbers for the police after Sierra Club raised the issue.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. 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 now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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Read this http://voices.washingtonpost.com/rawfisher/2008/08/from_now_on_im_entrusting_my_c.html to compare with Marion Berry's even more dismal record when he was on the board. Fisher also mention's Marcel Solomon's ties with county executive Jack Johnson - too many politcal appointments are just ways of doling out cash and prestige to the well-appointed. It is a bad way to run a business, and we need to separate Metro from stupid politicians.

by M.V. Jantzen on Aug 2, 2010 3:42 pm • linkreport

Wow, that's more than I get for my full-time job. Can I be a board member?

by Tim on Aug 2, 2010 5:16 pm • linkreport

Brown and Solomon are an embarrassment, they clearly are in it for the money and care nothing about those they serve.

by Mike on Aug 2, 2010 5:53 pm • linkreport

if you can't promise to be there most of the time (and i don't mean 50%+1, i mean 90%), then step down and let someone else who actually cares take the position.

by IMGoph on Aug 2, 2010 9:51 pm • linkreport

While this board may very well be the exception because of all the problems Metro has been having, it's really uncommon for Board members of any organization to make most of the meetings. While it varies by type of organization, I'd guess that in most circumstances if you have a third of the Board at any one meeting, you're doing very well. It's not a 'job' where people are expected to go in and make widgets. It's a responsibility ... One where not every Board member is going to be needed for every issue. I know there are exceptions such as the types of Boards where people go for approval of something (eg. HPRB), but the vast majority of Boards are there to accomplish a mission and it's not a requirement that every board member be there for every board meeting ... Nor does it make sense. A good comparison would be Congress. Not every Congressman needs be at every session of Congress ... Since not every bill will concern him/her. Compare this to the Supreme Court which must/should be involved in all decisions because their role is to sit in judgement on an issue.

But, of course, this might be an instance where these guys really should be there more often ... simply 'cause the Metro system is broken.

by Lance on Aug 2, 2010 10:36 pm • linkreport

WMATA board is not like a neighborhood association or a volunteer initiative. It's the board for a major public utility, with a budget of %1.3 billion!!!, thousands of employees, and more than one million customers each day.

U R wrong. When you have significant absences on boards, it is an indicator that there is a problem with how the board is structured, and/or the appointments process for members, because absences are an indicator of incongruence between the needs of the organization and the fitness of board appointees.

After the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation passed, I went to a nonprofit organization meeting, and the presenter made the point that nonprofit orgs. needed to consider Sarbox as well, with regard to accountability, presence and leadership of the board.

Clearly the problem with the WMATA board is an example of the relevance of Sarbox, and accountability generally to questions concerning WMATA's leadership.

by Richard Layman on Aug 3, 2010 6:53 am • linkreport

wrt the issue of board membership and presence, I think about this a lot. I am on two boards--Eastern Market and Community Forklift. I don't have enough time to devote to either, but generally I attend 80% or more of the board meetings. And others on the boards attend at a higher percentage. (And on CF, we had the same problem with some members that WMATA has, and we "thanked them for their service" and removed them from the board. But we had the ability to do so, because at the time, we had no automatic outside appointments, comparable to how WMATA works.)

I have a particular role on both boards (focusing on the big issues like a broken record, so e.g. with EM, as I have been saying the same thing for 3+ years, now people are coming around to the position.) IT is true that I don't attend committee meetings at that percentage. It was really hard to make those meetings when I was working in Towson.

On email lists I am on, I see people list their various affiliations with 4-8 board, organization, and committee positions and I wonder how is it possible for these people to be significantly and substantively involved.

And it does make me think about the findings by Roger Gump in _Big School, Small School_, a classic community psych study from the early 1960s, about the difference in engagement and involvement and the amount of participation in big high schools, vs. small high schools.

by Richard Layman on Aug 3, 2010 7:02 am • linkreport

Sorry to keep with this. Because of my limited time, and my personal assessment that I am not doing as well as I should, it makes me say no to taking on any other volunteer commitments. (And I am blogging less too.) People have to make choices. People like Neal Albert and Michael Brown shouldn't be appointed to the WMATA board.

As DA pointed out about the involvement of Mr. Zimmerman and Ms. Hudgins, it's important, they attend. (And if you hear either of them speak about transit issues or local govt. issues generally they are both very very very good...)

Say what you will about politicians, but Mr. Zimmerman and Ms. Hudgins are exemplars of dedicated public servants.

by Richard Layman on Aug 3, 2010 7:06 am • linkreport

If a board member misses more then 10% of meetings, the seat should be opened for election by the public at the next possible election.

by Redline SOS on Aug 3, 2010 9:30 am • linkreport

Well it's nice to see that my fare increase is going to something good...

Note to delinquent board members: Can I have my money back?

by Max D. on Aug 3, 2010 9:52 am • linkreport

@Max D: The money is paid by the State of Maryland to the board members that they appointed/hired. The board members don't work for you, they work for Maryland.

If you don't like the way the MD board members are doing their job, take it up with the state and county level officials that select them.

by Michael Perkins on Aug 3, 2010 10:08 am • linkreport

Richard is again correct. On email lists I am on, I see people list their various affiliations with 4-8 board, organization, and committee positions and I wonder how is it possible for these people to be significantly and substantively involved.

In this area, I suppose, people tend to put their personal ambition and self-image above those they are supposed to serve. They have lost the concept of what they are doing. In Jim Graham's case, it would seem with just two major responsibilities (that I know of) this would be do-able. But it isn't. His ward presents more challenges than Jack Evan's ward. It is more transient and volatile. He cannot take care of both Ward 1 and the metro board, especially when he was chairman. He always seemed prepared in terms of what he had to say but that was it. I might just vote for him, but he was so behind the 8 ball in terms of transit, driving on public park land for christ's sake, to neighborhood meetings. And even in terms of his words, he was actually kind of bad (Metro).

by Jazzy on Aug 3, 2010 10:46 am • linkreport

@Michael Perkins

I was mostly saying that in jest. If you read my post again, you'll see that I "want my money back" (in the least literal way possible) from delinquent board members, not the board members that do their jobs. Those MD reps can keep their money - it seems like they care a little.

by Max D. on Aug 3, 2010 11:13 am • linkreport

Isn't Michael Brown the one that the Washington City Paper's citydesk caught illegally parking his Hummer? What is a guy with a Hummer doing serving on the Metro board? Obviously he doesn't care about serving the needs of people using public transportation...

by lou on Aug 3, 2010 11:55 am • linkreport

@Richard, I guess I'm thinking in terms of corporate boards for corporations that have far far larger budgets than Metro. Some board members are really only there to be 'reached out to' when a certain connection is needed or an expertise needs to be tapped. Like the Congress it's rarely necessary that every member attend every meeting. Look how much happens in subcommittees on the Hill. Things really wouldn't work very well if it was 'presence' versus 'contribution' upon which a Board member of any organization was judged. I think most of us are in jobs where we're making widgets and our contribution is directly related to our presence. But when you go up the ladder, that correlation fails .. it fails miserably. Some of the smartest people on earth spend the least amount of time figuring out things that are literally worth their weight in gold.

The problem with the Board on Metro isn't whether or not the members are attending all (or most) meetings or not ... It's whether they are competent to do what they're doing AND whether the organization (Metro that is) is structured such to follow the Board's directions ... assuming they're good directions to begin with. I.e., It's not a matter of whether these relatively few individuals are spending a lot of time doing what they're doing. I've known far too many individuals who spend a hell of a lot of time ... accomplishing nothing ...

by Lance on Aug 3, 2010 12:02 pm • linkreport

I agree with Redline SOS' idea, a rarity.

We can keep the system that Governors, Mayors and Counties get to appoint their members. However, if at any point in the future, a member misses more than say 20% of the meetings in a year, then that seat falls to the public in those jurisdictions, and will forever be elected by the people.

I'd add that as soon as multiple seat become available, they the voting districts will be merged and we'll run elections based on a proportional representation.

Finally, when an elected member misses more than say 20% of the meetings in a year, they'll loose their seat immediately, and be replaced by the next candidate from the previous elections.

All in all, this will guarantee that withing a few years, we'll have a board made up from people that actually care about WMATA.

by Jasper on Aug 3, 2010 12:38 pm • linkreport

In other Metro news, the agency has agreed to post phone numbers for the police after Sierra Club raised the issue.

Well, don't get too excited. Several years ago I complained about the sign over the escalator on the north end of Union Station that said all trains on the right went to Shady Grove and all trains on the left went to Glenmont. I was assured that signage in Union Station was being revamped and that sign would be replaced soon. Time is measured differently at Metro than the rest of the world.

by Stanton Park on Aug 3, 2010 12:55 pm • linkreport

@Lance

Glad you clarified your earlier post where you sounded like an apologist for these no-show board members. To boil down your thoughts, we pay Mike Brown (son of late super politically connected Ron Brown) to be on the board as a bribe to be nice to WMATA when we need his help.

Interesting theory, but I don't see how that explains Solomon who is far less politically connected, and even though we pay him in excess of $500 per meeting he doesn't bother to show up for half of them. Tie money to attendence and I guarrentee his schedule becomes more accomodating.

by Mike on Aug 3, 2010 1:44 pm • linkreport

I'm with Richard. I am often asked to be on various boards, but do not have the time to be properly involved and so decline. WMATA is an entirely different level, more important than most corporate boards. Its a disgrace, but not surprising, that the PG executive treats the WMATA board as a perk for his friends, like he did with WSSC.

by SJE on Aug 3, 2010 2:10 pm • linkreport

@Mike, The point is that we need quality vs. quantity. Who cares if you've got a board member willing to drive out and sit in a meeting if he/she has nothing valuable to contribute to formulating the vision, mission, and policies of the organization? It's not like board members of an organization like Metro Board are supposed to be out there micromanaging anyways. And its not like what they do can't more effectively be done via emails, telephone, and other electronic collaboration. If this board is like most others, the actual board meetings are more for public 'show' anyways ... And I sometimes get the feeling that some of the posters on GGW don't understand a board's purpose. It's not to manage ... It's simply to formulate the vision and the mission and the high level policies and objectives. And, oh yeah, to hire (and fire) the actual management team that's supposed to implement their policies and objectives.

I'm surprised GGW doesn't focus more on demanding that more competent individuals on the board ... instead of just wanting what we already have to just show up more at the board meetings. It's like GGW is more interested in having greater opportunities for confronting the WMATA board than it is for getting the WMATA organization fixed ...

by Lance on Aug 3, 2010 6:46 pm • linkreport

Lance: I agree that the relevant issue should be quality, not quantity. Committee work is, however, team work. If you don't show up to work with the team, you are not doing your job and you make it more difficult for the rest of the team. Showing up should be a minimal requirement.

For example, lets say the rest of the committee decide something and I only show up to register dissent, forcing the committee to redo things (instead of incorporating my concerns at the outset).

by SJE on Aug 3, 2010 7:24 pm • linkreport

@ SJE: lets say the rest of the committee decide something and I only show up to register dissent

Isn't this SOP for the RNC?

captcha: stenched according

by Jasper on Aug 3, 2010 9:20 pm • linkreport

Lance -- you're absolutely wrong about corporate board membership and attendance, post Sarbox. If people don't attend, at least for stock owned corporations under SEC regulation, it is a real problem.

It is still a problem with nonprofit boards (in dc, with that nonprofit that David Wilmot controlled, with UPO, with many of the CDCs). But WMATA's budget is 1000x greater than the orgs mentioned in the paren, all the subject of voluminous coverage in the Washington Post.

It's a different quantum level altogether and should be treated appropriately.

WRT transit boards, some other boards have the same problem as WMATA, such as the MTA in NY State, with some board members.

by Richard Layman on Aug 4, 2010 5:15 pm • linkreport

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