- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A bipartisan group of lawmakers yesterday chastised Amtrak’s board of directors for firing President David L. Gunn because he opposes Bush administration plans to create a subsidiary.

They called for his reinstatement and reform of the board of directors.

While trying to defend the passenger rail service’s board of directors, Amtrak Chairman David M. Laney revealed that board members secretly awarded a public relations firm a no-bid contract, which could cost an estimated $25,000.

“It seems to me it is the board that should be replaced, not David Gunn,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, said during the House Transportation and Infrastructure railroads subcommittee hearing.

Amtrak’s management long has been under a watchful congressional eye because the passenger rail service has needed $29 billion in federal subsidies over the past 34 years to keep running.

Now its board of directors is under scrutiny for its decision last week to fire Mr. Gunn. The 68-year-old former president was ousted because he opposes plans to separate Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor from the rest of the rail service, which would open the way for private companies to operate trains along the busy 456-mile stretch of track from Washington to Boston.

Mr. Laney yesterday sat next to Mr. Gunn while lawmakers testified and described him as an “unwilling bystander” who opposed the board’s plans.

Mr. Gunn has received bipartisan support since his termination for efforts for more than three years to cut costs and replace Amtrak’s decrepit equipment.

Democrats on the subcommittee reminded Mr. Laney of a statement he made at a hearing Sept. 21, when he said Mr. Gunn was doing a “splendid job.”

Mr. Gunn said he doesn’t dispute the board’s right to fire him, but he does challenge the wisdom of creating a subsidiary because it looks like an attempt to dismantle Amtrak.

Mr. Gunn briefly sparred with Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican, and delivered an amusing response when asked by another lawmaker what he thought when he discovered the board had hired a public relations firm without his knowledge.

“It sort of indicated to me that something was afoot,” he said.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Mr. Gunn should be reinstated until questions are answered about the board’s authority to remove him.

“It is my belief that the board did not have the legal power to remove Mr. Gunn,” the senator said in testimony before the subcommittee.

Amtrak’s seven-member board has three vacancies, and lawmakers said it must have five members to make a quorum.

Mr. Laney and Jeffrey Rosen, Transportation Department general counsel, said the board had the authority to fire Mr. Gunn because a 1997 change in Amtrak’s articles of incorporation indicates the board needs four members to have a quorum.

The terms of Enrique Sosa, of Miami, and Floyd Hall, a retired former chairman of Kmart from Montclair, N.J., were recess appointments whose terms expire this year. The board will have the authority to run Amtrak even if Mr. Sosa and Mr. Hall aren’t replaced and just two members remain, Mr. Laney said.

Even Republicans bristled at that suggestion.

“That would be a very strange corporate structure,” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, Ohio Republican and chairman of the railroads subcommittee.

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