MWAA Board Member Dispute Continues
As Virginia presses to seat new members, DC threatens litigation.
The headaches never seem to end at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
MWAA has come under scrutiny for congress spending by its board of directors, its oversight of Metro's Silver Line, its reliance on Dulles Toll Road fees to pay for the rail project and its use of project labor agreements to complete its construction.
And now, as the board of directors meets July 18 for a meeting, its membership remains in dispute.
Earlier this year, Congress approved changes to the board's membership that give Virginia more representation. Gov. Bob McDonnell has pressed to have two new members seated, and has also attempted to immediately replace D.C.'s Dennis L. Martire with one of his picks: McLean businesswoman Caren Merrick.
To McDonnell, the replacement is a done deal. But Martire and the District of Columbia have fought McDonnell over the changes. This week, a Fairfax Circuit Court judge’s decision related to Martire’s removal resulted in conflicting stories in the Loudoun Times-Mirror and the Washington Examiner about whether Martire could be removed.
A July 16 letter from Virginia Sec. of Transportation Sean Connaughton asserted the state’s position that Martire could be removed.
“We have been provided a copy of his July 16, 2012, letter to you making such an argument,” DC Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan wrote in a July 17 letter to MWAA on behalf of the city. “This argument is fallacious and its acceptance could have unfortunate consequences.”
In a letter to MWAA, Martire’s attorney, Kevin M. Hodges, of Williams & Connolly, wrote "to remove a member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board, there must be ‘cause’ to do so, and the removal must be accomplished ‘in according with’ the laws of the jurisdiction from which the member was appointed.”
“Moreover, legal ‘cause’ must exist in fact before a member may be removed from his position, and a court must determine whether there is cause. To date, no court—including the court in Fairfax County—has held that Governor McDonnell acted ‘in accordance with’ the laws of Virginia when he purported to remove our client," Hodges wrote.
The exchange of letters occurred as the MWAA board prepared for a meeting Wednesday morning. Martire’s attorney argued if MWAA does not allow Martire to participate, it should also disallow Merrick's participation in the meeting.
“At a minimum … MWAA must maintain its current position and seat neither Mr. Martire nor Ms. Merrick until a court determines who is the rightful holder of the disputed seat,” Hodges wrote. “MWAA publicly committed itself to that position to both Mr. Martire and Ms. Merrick prior to the last Board meeting.”
Nathan’s letter on behalf of D.C. said an attempt to seat new members before the issue is resolved could result in litigation.
“Such an action would be beyond the authority of MWAA provided in the governing interstate compact, would violate the compact, and could lead to unnecessary conflict and, potentially, to litigation,” Nathan wrote. “If this occurs, the District will have no choice but to consider its legal options, including pursuing relief in the courts.”