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MTA chairman, board member butt heads over meetings

MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota speaks

MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota speaks to members of the media. (July 19, 2012) Credit: Charles Eckert

A plan to reduce how often the Metropolitan Transportation Authority governing body meets triggered an explosive argument Thursday between agency chairman Joseph Lhota and a board member.

"Be a man!" Lhota told Charles Moerdler.

"Bring it on!" Moerdler, 77, fired back.

"Let's go!" Lhota replied.

The shouting came as Lhota blasted Moerdler for accusing the MTA of compromising its transparency by reducing the frequency of MTA board meetings from every four weeks to every six. The total number of board meetings will decrease to eight a year from 11.

However, the agency is adding two public forums each year in which transit riders can ask questions of MTA leaders.

The board approved the measure, with Moerdler casting the only "no" vote. The new schedule takes effect in January.

The resolution says the change will "promote more efficient use of the time and resources of Board members and staff." But Moerdler said it would also delay the "timely disclosure" of information to the public.

"We need at this time to increase, not decrease, that disclosure," Moerdler said.

Lhota immediately criticized Moerdler's "flawed thinking" and noted that the data usually distributed at the meetings will continue to be released electronically on the MTA's website as soon as it is available.

"To make a statement that this is not transparent . . . just shows that the blubbering that you're talking about is just a waste of time and a waste of effort," Lhota said.

Moerdler, who joined the board in 2010, has been an outspoken critic of several MTA policies. He called Lhota's tirade against him "character assassination."

"With respect, I find your comments disturbing," Moerdler told Lhota.

"Respect is not mutual," Lhota replied.

After the heated exchange, other board members spoke in support of the plan, including former Gov. David A. Paterson, who had appointed Moerdler to the board.

Paterson said that while it was "valid to question" a nearly 30-percent reduction in board meetings, he thought the addition of question-and-answer sessions with MTA managers "accommodates what may have been a flaw in the original structure."

Lhota apologized after the meeting.

"I think my Bronx upbringing came out today," said Lhota, who was born in the Bronx and grew up on Long Island. "I've been trying to keep it in check for 57 years. And for that I apologize."

Former MTA board member James McGovern, who represented the LIRR Commuter Council, said he could not recall a major blowup among board members during his six years on the board. But he called Thursday's exchange "refreshing" for a board with a reputation for "rubber stamping things."

"I think it's important that they represent themselves professionally," said McGovern, who left the board in 2009 and now works as an investment banker in Atlanta. "But it's nice to see some vigorous exchanges, although preferably they'd come over some more meaningful matters."


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