MARTA and County Commissions Offer Little Public Resistance to Major Reform Bill

A bill that would fundamentally change the way MARTA does business has cleared the Georgia House and appears headed for Senate approval.

It would force MARTA to privatize major functions and weaken DeKalb and Fulton County’s power to appoint MARTA board members.

Yet, MARTA officials and county commissioners have so far remained relatively quiet, at least in public, during the legislative process.

House Bill 264 would shift board appointing power from the Fulton and DeKalb commissions to a caucus of mayors in the northern parts of those counties.

Fulton Chairman John Eaves opposes the bill but admits he’s been preoccupied.

“Frankly a lot of our effort so far has been dealing with current legislation that will have an immediate impact on the ability of the county to administer services to the citizens of Fulton County.” 

He says other legislation could cost the county roughly $50 million in tax revenue.

Redistricting and election wins gave control of Fulton’s legislative delegation to Republicans, mostly from north Fulton.

Eaves says the MARTA bill is a priority, but the county has had to pick its battles.

“You have a Republican-controlled local delegation that is imposing its will and the great danger in all of this is there has not been any sort of collaboration, discussion, conversation.”

Out of MARTA’s 12 board members, DeKalb County currently appoints four, Fulton County and the city of Atlanta each name three, and the state selects two.

Under House Bill 264, Fulton County would cede two of its appointees to a caucus of mayors based in north Fulton. The other appointee would be selected by a group of county commissioners and south Fulton mayors. Meanwhile, DeKalb County would lose one of its appointees to a similar caucus of local mayors. 

The bill’s supporters say the proposed arrangement better reflects the will of the counties.

Speaking on the House floor last week, Republican Ed Lindsey of Atlanta said north Fulton cities have often taken a backseat to the county commission.

“When the board constitution was first arranged in terms of who got to pick the board members, very little of Fulton County was incorporated. Over 90 percent of the population in Fulton County is now incorporated. That’s why the cities are going to step up and have a role in picking board members,” said Lindsey.

“They have been forgotten for many years, it’s time for them to be part of the table.”

No DeKalb commissioners responded to requests for this story.  

And MARTA spokesman Lyle Harris would only say the agency will continue working with lawmakers as the parties “move forward with plans to transform the transit system for a sustainable future.”

A public meeting Wednesday will bring together MARTA officials with Fulton and DeKalb commissioners to discuss the bill.