Qualified Transit Boards Make A Difference

COST Commentary: The story below is too often repeated in our nation’s transit agencies’ board leadership. Ineffective leadership is directly ralated to poor performance. While Cap Metro seems to enjoy more committed board members with much higher attendance levels, the board is hampered in its leadership effectiveness with mostly inexperienced and unqualified board members. Cap Metro needs more strengent board qualification criteria and perhaps modest board compensation to attract qualified candidates.

Those who argue the board makes little difference and the agency head is the key to good prerformance should consider that an inordanate number of major city Metro heads have “resigned” in recent years under “cloudy” conditions of shoddy performance. Good agency/corporate leadership requires both qualified board members and management.

Who’s minding the (Washington DC) Metro board?

Sunday, August 8, 2010; A14

TO THE LIST of dysfunction at Metro — broken escalators; deadly accidents and safety mishaps; aging equipment; crumbling platforms; uncertain management; parlous finances — add one more glaring problem: members of Metro’s own board of directors who regard their responsibility to attend board meetings as optional. Put another way, some of the same people whom passengers are relying on to fix a broken agency can’t even be bothered to show up.

According to records obtained by the Washington Examiner, about half of the 14 Metro board members have missed meetings in the 18 months that ended July 1 with some regularity, meaning at least a quarter to a fifth of the time. By far the worst offenders are D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), one of the District’s representatives on the board, and Marcell Solomon, one of Maryland’s. By their absences, both men make a mockery of the nation’s second-busiest transit system and display contempt not only for their colleagues on the board, but also for the system’s bus and rail passengers.

Mr. Brown, who seems to regard his service on the board as an amusing hobby, skipped 52 meetings, about two-thirds of the Metro board’s sessions, since the start of 2009. Mr. Solomon was paid almost $40,000 last year for his so-called service on the board, more than any other board member. Still, he skipped about half the meetings in the same time span. (A few of his absences early this year may have been due to knee surgery.)

In his defense, Mr. Brown points out that he’s an alternate member, without a vote on the full board, so — this part is implicit — who cares if he plays hooky? In fact, alternate members are empowered to vote on critical and often decisive issues in committee meetings, which are numerous and which he skips at the same rate as full board meetings. Mr. Brown serves on the Metro board at the pleasure of D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who should immediately replace him with someone who cares enough to show up.

Mr. Solomon was appointed by his close friend and sometime legal client Jack B. Johnson, Prince George’s County executive. Mr. Johnson has made a habit of rewarding his cronies with handsomely paid, no-show jobs. According to the Examiner, among the meetings Mr. Solomon skipped was one last month at which Metro’s real estate committee approved an important plan to develop land around the New Carrollton station in Prince George’s, the jurisdiction he is supposed to represent. Mr. Solomon’s truancy is an embarrassment to Metro, to Maryland and to Prince George’s. He, too, should be removed from the Metro board without delay.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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