Amid the budget debates at the WMATA Board yesterday, three of the Virginia members took an important stand for transparency and public involvement by pushing for early release of the proposed budget.
At their last meeting, the Board asked staff to release the budget for all to see at or before yesterday’s meeting. But by the time the meeting was underway, the budget was still not out. Chris Zimmerman of Arlington asked why it wasn’t in their packets and wasn’t posted online.
Staff replied that then-Chairman Jim Graham and presumptive Chairman Peter Benjamin (who was later elected Chairman) asked for the budget to be moved to the executive session for the Board to discuss before public release. Alexandria Mayor William Euille, one of the alternate members, thought that was inappropriate, and said so.
Supevisor Catherine Hudgins, the principal member from Fairfax County, pointed out that the Board had asked for public release. Also, she added, “this is the General Manager’s budget,” and as such shouldn’t go just to the Board but to everyone.
Graham and Benjamin had no objection to releasing the budget, and ordered staff to do so while taking the budget off the executive session agenda. It took until the end of the day, however. One day, in this situation, doesn’t make much difference, but it’s a remnant of that persistent mentality that the Board should filter budget information before the public sees it.
Had the budget been presented in executive session, the Board might also have discussed their views on the budget in that session. We deserve to hear Board members’ views on issues that aren’t strictly about legal or personnel matters, which the budget is not.