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Open Government advocacy groups urge changes to proposed WMATA Safety Oversight Authority

OPEN GOVERNMENT ADVOCACY GROUPS URGE CHANGES TO PROPOSED WMATA SAFETY OVERSIGHT AUTHORITY

Advocates from DC, Maryland and Virginia unite to mandate right of access in the authority’s meetings and documents.

Leadership of the D.C. Open Government Coalition, MDDC Press Association and Virginia Coalition for Open Government have jointly written a letter urging legislators to ensure the public and members of the press have access to meetings and documents from the proposed Metrorail Safety Commission for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA” or “Metro”).

The legislation is pending in the District of Columbia (District of Columbia Bill Number 21-828) and expected to be introduced in Maryland and Virginia in advance of their respective 2017 sessions.  The current legislation alludes to an expectation of openness as a matter of policy, but falls short of mandating right of access and does not include any enforcement mechanism.  Kevin Goldberg, president of DC Open Government Coalition, notes that “it is obvious that WMATA needs more oversight and the public should be able to participate in that process.” The proposed commission is intended to act as a government agency and, Goldberg stresses, “should be treated as a government agency for all legal purposes, including open meetings and access to records purposes.”

The groups are asking that legislators make the proceedings of the Commission subject to the actual laws of each jurisdiction or, in the alternative, the federal Government in Sunshine Act and Freedom of Information Act and providing a clear right of appeal to a higher body within a jurisdiction followed by a right of judicial review in federal court.  Megan Rhyne, executive director of Virginia Open Government Coalition, says “this change shifts the public right of access from a passive suggestion to an enforceable requirement highlighting the importance of public participation.” 

Public input will be critical to get a realistic picture of the Metrorail system, and the public must have faith in the process and be able to hold this new commission accountable.  The Commission is being formed after significant safety lapses and the failure of the Tri-State Oversight Commission to ensure the safety of the system.  The public’s perception of the Commission’s findings and actions will be shaped by their perception of whether the process is fair or not.  Rebecca Snyder, executive director of the MDDC Press Association notes that the Commission is “starting in the negative in terms of public perception if the public feels it is being shut out of the process.”

For the full text of the letter, click here.

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DC Open Government Coalition seeks to enhance the public’s access to government information and ensure the transparency of government operations of the District of Columbia. We believe that transparency promotes civic engagement and is critical to responsive and accountable government. We strive to improve the processes by which the public gains access to government records and proceedings, and to educate the public and government officials about the principles and benefits of open government in a democratic society.  Learn more at www.dcogc.org.

The Maryland | Delaware | DC Press Association is a vibrant, influential association representing member newspapers and their multi-platform businesses in our region.  We believe a strong news media is central to a strong and open society.  We help our members succeed through advocacy efforts, revenue generation, professional development and industry recognition. Learn more at www.mddcpress.com.

Virginia Coalition for Open Government is a nonprofit alliance formed to promote expanded access to government records, meetings and other proceedings at the state and local level.  Learn more at www.opengovva.org.

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