WMATA’s new chair Catherine Hudgins is also a Fairfax County supervisor with the practice of holding “First Monday” of the month meetings to hear from constituents. Yesterday’s meeting was at the Reston Regional Library — and two bag search opponents reported they were there to ask Hudgins the question we’re asking of all WMATA directors: will she vote against the bag searches?
Neither had a recording device, but one reported back that Ms. Hudgins was “quite cautious in her statements and watched my note-taking,” continuing that the supervisor
…said she “empathized with our concerns” but was noncommittal to our request to vote toward an end to Metro bag searches, had nothing to say about profiling and what “random” means. She nodded sympathetically and said she understood how we feel that our constitutional rights were eroding since the Patriot Act, but she would not commit to supporting a move to end the searches. She repeated that it is a difficult balance as there are “predators” out there. She mentioned DC Councilman Tommy Wells has a put forward a petition on this issue. Other points she made (I paraphrase) :
- The [WMATA] board debated this issue
- Riders Advisory Board did a better job
- Metro Board is supposed to provide oversight yet has no control
- Community discussion should have happened
- Received much community feedback with concern
- Homeland Security Grant stipulates how that money is spent
- Out of our hands as this is a “security” issue
- Too late for public input since grant already accepted
(Emphases added, parentheticals omitted.) In a second email, the first opponent reported, “Again, I did not have a recorder but one of the first things she said and again I am paraphrasing, “The board is supposed to provide oversight without control.”” The second opponent confirmed “out of our hands” and “has no control/without control” as how Hudgins characterized the WMATA board’s authority — over its own police chief, general manager, and the unconstitutional bag search program those employees have initiated.
Taken together, Ms. Hudgins’ remarks amount to a cramped — but also arguably frustrated — view of the powers of the board she chairs. Supervisor and Chairwoman Hudgins should take heart: whatever the proper lines of authority may be for day to day operations, her board clearly has not only the right but the duty to intervene if its organization is engaging in unconstitutional actions.
The contractual details of Homeland Security grants are not the highest law of the land, even within Metro’s subterranean world. When WMATA directors swear their oaths of office, those oaths are not just to the WMATA compact, but to the Constitution of the United States as well — in fact first and foremost. They must live up to that written defense of freedom — not duck their responsibilities to do so.