WASHINGTON - Metro is defending itself against a new report that shows in the days after January's L'Enfant Plaza smoke incident that killed a Virginia woman, it spent $250,000 on public relations.
This comes on the heels of a bus shooting that wasn't revealed and a failure to fix a track problem that caused a derailment at Smithsonian station.
Will Sommer, a columnist for the Washington City Paper and FOX 5 contributor, said it all started with a question about Metro's public relations costs.
"Metro wouldn't say how much they had paid for them, and obviously, that sets off alarm bells,” he told us.
Sommer sent a records request to Metro and got back a CD. It was packed with documents, but parts of it were blacked out. But the problem for Metro? By moving a cursor, you can reveal what was blacked out in the documents.
Sommer then soon received a phone call from Metro asking for him to send it back.
“I was like, 'Well, obviously, that's not how we do things,’” said Sommer.
The redacted documents show that Metro paid $250,000 to the Hill+Knowlton public relations firm after the L’Enfant Plaza accident.
The company worked to portray interim general manager Jack Requa as “a leader in control” and do "daily monitoring" of Twitter accounts like @FixMetro.
Sommer said @FixMetro account’s owner told him that Metro could have just talked to him at no cost.
"At the same time, he said, 'Shoot, they want to know about me, let's do a sit-down and I'll do it for free.’"
In a statement, Metro wrote, "Their fees were paid by Metro's insurance company and the contracts were completed in full on June 30."
Riders told us Metro should focus on service instead of spin.
"The thing that's really funny about Metro is that every day, it seems like they are doing repairs, but it doesn't seem like anything gets fixed,” said one commuter.
“Hopefully it’s not putting too much money for public relations versus actual safety measures and issues,” another rider said.
But recent issues like a Metrobus being shot at and the track problems Metro knew about in the Smithsonian train derailment raises a question: when it comes to public relations, what is Metro really relating to the public?
"It's interesting how Metro sort of doesn’t want to tell people about a bad thing that happened on the system until after it’s happened,” said Sommer.
While the public relations company worked to portray the interim general manager as a "leader in control," the fact is he is not the full-time leader. Metro has not had a permanent general manager in nearly nine months and sources close to the situation tell us there is no sign that it is going to change anytime soon.