- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

Metro board members Thursday rebuffed Metro General Manager Richard A. White's attempt to bypass standard approval procedure to acquire extra funding for his service-enhancement action plan, and even exercised their rarely used veto power to reject it.

Board members were asked to vote Thursday on Mr. White's $1.85 million, 60-day "action plan" to improve customer service, without it having been submitted first before the board's budget committee.

The board ultimately approved $700,000 for the plan.

Maryland's voting board members, Decatur Trotter II and Cleatus E. Barnett, utilized their jurisdictional veto power to torpedo the funding measure.

"There are many, many people complaining about how much money we spend and how we spend it and we should follow procedures," said Mr. Trotter after the three-hour board meeting. "We think that the general manager has got to go by the rules of government."

Mr. White said after the meeting that he asked for the additional funds at the request of the operations committee.

"It was coming on the heels of their request to speed up the escalator program," said Mr. White, who acknowledged that the timing of his funding request was "a little out of the ordinary."

The general manager noted, too, that he pushed forward with the action plan because there was only one board meeting this month and he didn't want the plan delayed. At the July 13 operations committee meeting, board members had expressed disappointment with Metro's less-than-speedy performance in getting all of its escalators up and running.

The alternative measure, providing $700,000 in extra funds for signs alerting patrons of escalator and elevator work and for power or "third" rail insulators, was approved unanimously by the six voting board members. Part of that sum $250,000 was actually money stripped from another portion of Metro's expected 2006 budget and put in the fiscal 2001 budget to provide escalator signs.

Other parts of the plan calling for extra personnel at the stations to help wayward passengers, and so-called "feel-good" measures, such as "I'm Proud to be a Metro Employee Ask Me" badges for employees. Those measures did not call for any additional funding.

The $1.15 million not approved would have provided extra lighting at stations, extra cleaning of rail cars and more aggressive recruiting measures for escalator mechanics, among other things.

The alternative funding plan was sponsored by Virginia member and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kate K. Hanley.

Also, Mr. Barnett said he didn't like having to decide on the plan on such short notice, because board members weren't given the chance to ask Mr. White's staff questions, as would be done during a budget committee meeting.

"We're not being given the opportunity to understand," Mr. Barnett said. "I feel that I am being pushed here."

Len N. Foxwell, director of Washington-area transit programs for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said he was "stunned" at how Mr. White "circumvented the time-honored budget-review process."

"It certainly doesn't help us build a positive working relationship, and if this continues, it would have a corrosive effect on our confidence in the general manager's staff," Mr. Foxwell said. "We have a system of checks and balances that's been in place for 25 years."

Board Chairman Gladys W. Mack, however, said Mr. White's original plan shows a "proactive" way of thinking.

"We all talk about the troubles of an aging system, and here's something we can do about it," she said.

The board Thursday also approved $5.3 million in extra funds to provide for needed spare parts, work on the Dupont Circle station's escalators and the overall escalator and elevator rehabilitation program.

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