Should Metro board investigate City of Alexandria?
Dear WMATA, Alexandria City Council, and copied,
Why isn't the Metro board investigating and penalizing the City of Alexandria for its many documented counts of dishonesty and ethical breaches in its attempt to build the Potomac Yard Metro Station Alternative B, as it currently is with D.C. councilor Jack Evans and Arlington County Board chairman Christian Dorsey? According to Metro board chairman Paul Smedberg: "I want to remind everyone that the code of ethics exists to assure the highest degree of confidence and public trust in [Metro]" (The Washington Post, "Metro board penalizes Dorsey over union donation").
Perhaps it is because of former Alexandria City councilor Smedberg's own dishonesty regarding the construction of the metro station: first by attempting to cover up the deletion of the south entrance when he was a City councilor in 2018 and later by ignoring numerous complaints of the City's gaslighting and interference in the permitting process after he was elected WMATA board chairman in 2019 (ironically succeeding Jack Evans, who resigned after the board's ethics committee found him guilty of misconduct).
Fair is fair, City of Alexandria should not be overlooked in the metro board's censure of wayward members and partner jurisdictions. Moreover, Mr. Dorsey's missteps, largely procedural and not suggestive of dishonesty, pale in comparison to the extent of the City's wrongdoing. Except for WMATA's extricating itself in 2018 from the City's false narrative by denying any confidentiality directive regarding the deletion of the south entrance, it has accommodated all instances of the City's misconduct without so much as a hint of censure. In fact, Mr. Smedberg is regularly seen at the metro station public meetings cheering on the project with the same City officials and staff shown to be guilty of wrongdoing.
In addition to Mr. Smedberg, Alexandria City Mayor Justin Wilson, City Manager Mark Jinks, his deputy Emily Baker, and DPI Deputy Director Anthony Gammon, among others, have all been exposed in the public record for being dishonest in their single-minded pursuit of the Alternative B station. Some key evidence is outlined below.
- Inexplicably, Mr. Jinks is still presenting a spurious WMATA confidentiality directive as excuse for the City's deliberate mendacity and attempted cover-up of the deletion of the PYMS south entrance: "In regard to the need to remove the south station entrance for financial reasons, the City was working under a confidentiality directive from WMATA staff and therefore was instructed not to release information. Ms. Baker’s directions to other City staff were based on that WMATA directive. WMATA later changed their directive" (September 12, 2019 email).
Mr. Jinks is being dishonest about being dishonest: "Metro officials deny that they ever barred Alexandria from talking about the south entrance... Metro chief engineer John D. Thomas said the design change 'is not proprietary from a procurement standpoint' " (The Washington Post, "City lied about Metro cuts"). An August 16, 2018 communication from WMATA's General Counsel in response to a FOIA request further confirms the City's dishonesty over the deletion of the south entrance: "Please be advised that officials from WMATA and the City of Alexandria did not sign confidentiality agreements specifically regarding the cost escalation and the deletion of the south entrance."
At this late date, and throughout the permitting process, Mr. Jinks continues to mislead the public (and federal and state regulators) as to the facts surrounding the deletion of the south entrance. Why has this serious breach of transparency been condoned by WMATA - especially concerning one of its projects and with the ongoing participation by the board chairman?
- There are the multiple FOIAs by The Washington Post, Alexandria Times, and individuals that clearly reveal Ms. Baker deliberately deceived the public by removing and replacing a "rendering that depicted one mezzanine – thus showing the south mezzanine had been removed – from a WMATA presentation released on April 9 "... "We have to pull it,” Baker said in an email to [Potomac Yard Metro Manager Jason] Kacamburas at 1:31 pm on April 9" (Alexandria Times, "City's Potomac Yard narrative changes").
An irrefutable fact here is that WMATA itself honestly planned to show that the south mezzanine had been removed from its presentation on April 9, 2018 until Ms. Baker intervened and had it dishonestly restored.
- "[then Vice Mayor] Justin Wilson...told the Alexandria Times [in June 2018 after the cover-up over the deletion of the south entrance had been exposed] that prior to the May 2018 announcement the entrance had been eliminated, “... we didn’t know what would ultimately be decided.” Yet in an email exchange between Wilson and City Manager Mark Jinks dated July 14, 2017, Jinks tells Wilson, “with one less ped bridge and mezzanine to build the construction time should shrink.” "City staff, nine months later, was still working to keep [this specific change] from the public" (Alexandria Times, "Potomac Yard Metro obfuscation erodes trust").
- "Smedberg, a member of the WMATA board of directors since 2016 said [in May 2018] he wasn't aware the southern entrance would be eliminated until shortly before Jinks sent the [May 4, 2018] memo... Jinks [in contrast] said in May 2018 that city council was made aware the entrance could be eliminated [in June 2017]" (Alexandria Times, "Shattered Promises in Potomac Yard").
- Mr. Jinks it seems was part-truthful in saying that City Council was informed of the deletion of the south entrance in June 2017 - though not all of council were informed, as the record suggests, only those Jinks most trusted to keep from mishandling such potentially volatile information: Wilson and Smedberg. Former Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg is on record multiple times stating that she and Council as a whole were first officially informed of the south entrance deletion in spring 2018.
- The City, as well as WMATA by collusion, in clear stated purpose of using the south entrance, and done in advance of its decision to eliminate the south entrance, is in effect a breach of contract. "Potomac Yard residents are frustrated after what they see as a pattern of bait-and-switch from the city and a lack of accountability from city officials... Residents say the city made decisions to increase density based on the false premise that there would be a southern entrance. They point to a new residential development at 2551 Main Line Blvd. with more units than called for in the Potomac Yard/Potomac Greens small area plan" (Alexandria Times, "Shattered Promises in Potomac Yard").
- DPI Deputy Director Anthony Gammon falsely signed the Joint Permit Application (JPA) on September 29, 2017, which included the south entrance, certifying all information as true and accurate but knowing full well that the City eliminated the south entrance in July 2017. Beyond the lack of truthfulness from a public trust servant, the concern for fraud here is obviously its harm to the evaluation by the USACE, state, and public of the information submitted for review.
For nearly a year after the original JPA, regulators and the public alike were deliberately kept in the dark and forced to review a project description that the City knew was false. How much taxpayer dollars at the federal, state, and local levels were needlessly spent on this wasted effort?
This deceptive action by City staff effectively defrauded the federal and state permitting analyses, applications, and process, as well as further disenfranchised public participation.
- According to the discussion of the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA) in Stantec's new JPA of February 6, 2019 (page 58), ridership and economic development are among the main criteria evaluated. Ridership is described in terms of distance between riders and access to the station. However, the City knew the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) ridership analysis was invalid because the access point changed substantially when access was reduced from two points to one. Which means the JPA's analysis and selection of alternatives were fraudulent and that regulators and the public spent nearly a year reviewing false analyses.
To make matters worse, the EIS of the fraudulent original JPA is used in the new JPA, which still has the ridership analysis consisting of two access points as based on the original EIS analysis. (Page 37 of the February 6, 2019 JPA: https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/PotomacYardMetroJPAApplicationReducedSize.pdf)
- The Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which provides financial and technical assistance to local public transit systems and states, and the City violated the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA–LU) because the station still has not been constructed in the allotted timeline owing to the City's arrogance and interference in the permitting process, e.g., modifying the project purpose to claim that Alternative B was the only practicable alternative, thus confounding the legality of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granting a Section 404 Clean Water Act permit under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. FTA's $80 million grant under SAFETEA–LU is also in jeopardy - or should be - as a result of the City's actions and FTA's and WMATA's complacency.
It is a good thing for City of Alexandria, Arlington County, and D.C. that ethics in government operations are currently being evaluated locally and held to such high standard, as well as encouraging hope for confidence and public trust in Metro's operations. D.C. Council and WMATA seem to have done their part in identifying and remedying misconduct with respect to Metro in D.C. and Arlington County, but Alexandria City Council (Mayor Wilson notwithstanding) and WMATA must do the same for Alexandria.
C. Dara, Alexandria 22304
Hal Hardaway, Alexandria 22314
Jimm Roberts, Alexandria 22314
Environmental Council of Alexandria