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Nearly a decade after Arlington lost its (almost guaranteed) voting seat on the board of the Metro system, the county is no closer to getting it back.
Matt Letourneau, a member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, will return for 2021 as the region’s voting member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) board of directors.
He will continue on the WMATA board along with the other voting member from Virginia, Paul Smedberg, who represents the state government’s interests on the transit panel.
Non-voting alternates from Virginia are Canek Aguirre, a member of the Alexandria City Council, and Walter Alcorn, a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
From virtually the start of the Metro system’s governance body until 2011, Arlington had held one of two voting seats from Virginia on the WMATA board (although, technically, they were regional seats filled by Arlington representatives). But that year, then-Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) successfully orchestrated the removal of one of two Virginia voting seats from regional control to state control.
As a result of that action, the then-voting representative from Arlington, County Board member Mary Hynes, was bumped down to non-voting alternate status, while Fairfax Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, retained the local voting seat.
After Hynes departed the County Board, a successor – Christian Dorsey – took her place as one of Virginia’s nonvoting alternates. And in 2018, Dorsey succeeded Hudgins (who was retiring from elected office) as the region’s voting member.
But Dorsey resigned from the WMATA board in March 2020 after questions of alleged financial impropriety led to him being chastised by his colleagues on the Metro board. Letourneau, then an alternate board member, was tapped to replace him, and Aguirre received Letourneau’s nonvoting position, leaving Arlington out.
It may be much ado about nothing – Northern Virginia localities, which once marched to their own drummers, politically-speaking, are now effectively joined at the hip, at least in terms of the views of most elected officials. The idea of having a Loudoun County official as the voting member of the Metro board, which might have been seen as preposterous not that many years ago, now strikes no one as unusual.
Appointment of the local representatives is the province of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. And while Smedberg formally represents the state government on the body, his roots are in local governance – he served a lengthy stint on the Alexandria City Council.
And while local officials in recent years have said it really doesn’t matter what jurisdiction the local voting representative comes from, that wasn’t exactly the view in the heat of the moment after the governor and legislature swiped the seat.
Reducing local-government power on the WMATA board will present “practical, real and significant problems in the long run,” Hynes predicted in 2011, when the plan was formulated.
(After leaving the Arlington County Board in 2015, Hynes was appointed to the Commonwealth Transportation Board.)
The WMATA board is composed of eight voting and alternate directors – two of each from Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia and the federal government. The board was created by an interstate compact in 1967 to develop a regional rail system (whose first stations opened in 1976) and in 1973 acquired four regional bus systems that became the Metrobus system.