The board chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority struck a cautious tone Wednesday amidst a messy legal dispute that once again pits the board against the administration of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Mr. McDonnell last week removed one of Virginia’s representatives on the board, saying his ties to union labor created a conflict of interest in his votes regarding collective bargaining agreements on the $6 billion Dulles Metrorail expansion.
Dennis L. Martire, vice president of the Laborers’ International Union of America (LiUNA), immediately sued the state in federal court, and the airports authority filed a petition Monday in Fairfax County Circuit Court asking a judge to determine whether Mr. Martire or Mr. McDonnell’s appointee, Caren Merrick, has legal claim to the seat.
Mr. Martire’s lawsuit says Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton told the board member on June 7 he would be removed soon. The notification was made a day after the board voted to repeal a controversial scoring bonus for contractors bidding on Phase 2 of the 23-mile Dulles rail project who agreed to employ a “project labor agreement” Mr. Martire had advocated in April 2011 for the PLAs, which the Republican governor vehemently opposed.
Mr. Martire, who was appointed in 2008 by Mr. McDonnell’s predecessor, Tim Kaine, said the move was political and that he was singled out because of his ties to labor.
But Mr. McDonnell’s office cited recent reports indicating Mr. Martire logged travel expenses of more than $38,000 attending five conferences in 2010 and 2011. Mr. Martire insists he did not violate any of the authority’s travel policies.
“We do not want to debate this issue in the media, and we do not want questions to linger,” board Chairman Michael A. Curto said Wednesday, stressing that there exists “the clear desire to have a quick and definitive resolution of the issue.”
He has promised Mr. McDonnell and the board that they will “promptly and fully comply with the [court’s] decision.”
“Because the legal basis upon which the Governor acted is disputed and uncertain, it is unclear whether the removal action was valid,” MWAA’s petition reads.
But according to Mr. Connaughton, the situation is clear.
“MWAA has been informed clearly and unequivocally that Mr. Martire’s tenure has been terminated and that he has no authority to continue on the MWAA Board,” he wrote Wednesday in an email. “By denying voting rights to his successor, MWAA has acted beyond its authority and has created an environment in which any of its actions taken during the period of restriction on Ms. Merrick invite court challenge by third parties. The MWAA Board should not be defending his actions, they should be supporting ours.”
Mr. Martire and Ms. Merrick both attended Wednesday’s board meeting, but neither sat with the board or cast votes.