Pressure grew on Metro board chairman Jack Evans to resign Thursday after he threatened to exercise a rarely used veto in a struggle between the District and Maryland that critics said exemplifies the parochial disputes hampering the transit agency.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) joined Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in calling for Evans to step down. Connolly is the first Democrat to urge the departure of Evans, who represents the District on the Metro board and is a Democratic D.C. Council member representing Ward 2.
Connolly blamed Evans for inflaming tensions within the region as Metro seeks regionwide support for increased, reliable funding.
“I think the time has come for Jack Evans to step down as chairman and from the board,” Connolly said. “He has now become a lightning rod that can only create, frankly, opposition to any attempt at forging a regional agreement on dedicated funding.”
The escalating criticism of Evans highlighted the tensions among the District, Maryland and Virginia over how to govern Metro and led to renewed calls to shrink the board and make it less political.
The board is made up of eight voting members and eight alternates, evenly divided among the District, Maryland, Virginia and the federal government. Evans was reelected as chairman in January, despite having aroused ire in Maryland, Virginia and Congress for his outspoken rhetoric, such as in faulting the states for resisting a penny-per-dollar regionwide sales tax to fund Metro.
Connolly spoke after Evans warned that the city would exercise a jurisdictional veto to hold up transfer of Metro property to Maryland, which the state needs for its light-rail Purple Line, unless Maryland supports a board reorganization that the District favors.
Under board rules, two voting members from D.C., Maryland or Virginia can block a resolution otherwise supported by the majority. The veto has drawn criticism for years for allowing individual jurisdictions to obstruct measures in the system’s overall interest.
Hogan’s office condemned Evans’s veto threat as “tantamount to extortion” and used stronger language than in the past in urging the Metro chairman to quit.
“This latest stunt by Jack Evans is further proof that he is outrageously unfit to serve on the board and should resign immediately,” Hogan Communications Director Doug Mayer said Thursday.
Hogan’s office had publicly called for Evans’s departure last Friday, accusing him of “continued juvenile outbursts.”
Evans, in a phone interview, declined to comment on Connolly’s criticisms, but at a news conference earlier in the day, he suggested that Hogan’s rebuke seemed beneath the office of the governor.
“Do you believe that the governor of Maryland is issuing a statement about this?” Evans said. “I find it somewhat astonishing that the governor is engaging in this kind of namecalling.”
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) expressed unhappiness over what he called the “unfortunate” dispute between the District and Maryland, but stopped short of urging Evans to step down.
He said the disageement demonstrated the wisdom of a proposal by former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood to oust the Metro board and replace it with a temporary, five-member “reform board.” LaHood, who was recruited by McAuliffe to study Metro, is scheduled to issue a report this month including the board proposal.
McAuliffe “believes this unfortunate episode is a clear example of the need to replace the current [Metro] governance structure with the non-political 5-member interim control board,” McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said. “The inability of certain board members to resolve inter-jurisdictional squabbles over policy should not derail progress on projects that are important to the entire region.”
Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne, asked specifically whether Evans should go, said, “I won’t get into personalities, but this kind of behavior is not helpful to us.”
Evans said the restructuring plan has broad support within the board. He conceded it may seem trivial to use the jurisdictional veto for this purpose, but said Maryland had been first to invoke it by suggesting earlier it might use the veto to block Evans’s desire to streamline the board’s committee structure.
Evans and the District’s other voting board member, Corbett Price, want to reduce the number of board committees from seven to four, and allow alternates to chair committees. Maryland wants only voting members to serve as committee heads, and dislikes the plan because it could have the effect of extending Evans’s term as board chairman by six months.
“Fourteen members of the board, plus the general manager want this reorganization,” Evans said, citing conversations with General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld and other board members. “Corbett and I as the District’s two voting members will veto anything else until they agree.”
But the threat dismayed Maryland, which says it needs approval soon of transfer of property rights at three Metro stations so construction can begin on the light-rail Purple Line linking Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
“For an authority that’s in need of ridership, in need of revenue, that’s a very parochial, selfish and unfortunate position for the District of Columbia representative to take,” Maryland board member Michael Goldman said.
The property transfer also was embroiled in a dispute Thursday over whether Maryland was paying Metro enough for the land rights at New Carrollton, College Park and Silver Spring Metro stations. The property is valued between $24 million and $37 million. It would be given to Maryland in exchange for a 450-space state-owned parking lot and nearly 500,000 feet of state property, valued together at $17.1 million.
In a surprise move, a board committee passed a substitute resolution that gives tentative approval for the transfer — but only if Metro and Maryland enter negotiations and come up with a new figure for “fair compensation” on the exchange by the end of December. Maryland said the action threatens to delay the project.
Top D.C. officials appeared to continue to back Evans. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) both emphasized that the key issue was not changing the board, but finding dedicated revenue for the transit system.
“We all must stayed focused on the long-term health of Metro, and that comes through dedicated revenue,” Bowser Chief of Staff John Falcicchio said.
“The Mayor has agreed with the concept of a smaller board with members appointed by the executives of the District, Maryland and Virginia, and it is time for Maryland and Virginia to agree to dedicated revenue,” he said.
The D.C. Council appointed Evans to the Metro board, and Mendelson said he didn’t foresee any change there.
“Last I checked, I didn’t see anybody here in the halls at the Wilson Building advocating a change in our council appointment,” Mendelson said.
Martine Powers contributed to this article.