Past ARC Chair Sam Olens: Is it time to elect a metro leader?

The Atlanta region is like Rodney Dangerfield. It don’t get no respect.

For decades, efforts to create a regional mindset have had mixed results.

Barriers are torn down just to be rebuilt — creating divisions between the inner urban core, the closer-in suburban counties and the exurban counties; between cities and counties; between the northern and southern parts of the region.

And while elected officials in all the various cities and counties in the 10-county area that makes up the Atlanta Regional Commission all agree that our problems cross over the borders of their jurisdictions, they all understand that when it comes to decision-making time they must take care of their voters first.

It’s called political survival. Certain elected officials have taken regional position at the cost of their own electability — think Jack Smith, the former chairman of the Fayette County Commission.

Smith lost his seat last fall partly because of support for regional cooperation and for transit. In fact, Smith lost his commission seat to Steve Brown, who submitted a resolution for Fayette County to abandon any plans for mass transit.

A similar story line could be playing out in Cobb County. Commission Chairman Tim Lee is supporting the draft list of transportation projects passed by the executive committee of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable, which includes a rail line from the Arts Center MARTA station to the Cumberland area in Cobb.

But the rail line, which would be a critical leg in a regional transit system, is being opposed by some key players in Cobb, and it is unknown whether that will impact Lee’s ability to be re-elected.

Something is wrong when our elected officials are punished for supporting a plan that is in the region’s best interest.

This past week, the Regional Leadership Institute convened its 2011 class in St. Simons, and one of the panel participants was Sam Olens, who currently is Georgia’s attorney general and former was chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission as well as chairman of the Cobb County Commission.

Olens knows first hand the limitations and potential of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

In a phone interview after his panel discussion, Olens said he believes that now might be the right time to change the “ARC’s statutory framework” so that it would have a “region-wide elected chairperson.”

In other words, electing a regional chair of ARC would create a position that could be considered a metro mayor — having someone whose constituency would be the whole 10-county region rather than just a slice of the area.

“Everybody complains that ARC doesn’t do enough, but few people have read the statute to see how little power it has,” Olens said. “Having someone elected from the region — it would be a healthy discussion.”

Currently, there is a search underway for a director of the Atlanta Regional Commission. But if it were up to him, Olens said that if there were to be an elected regional chairman, he or she would actually become the full-time leader of ARC and there would be no need for director.

Serving on that panel was Bill Bolling, founder of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, who put it this way.

“If we are going to hold the Atlanta Regional Commission responsible, then we’ve got to have somebody who is elected who has that responsibility,” Bolling said.

Back during the gubernatorial administration of Roy Barnes, there was a widespread belief that only the state could create a regional mindset. There even was talk that Gov. Barnes had emerged as Atlanta’s metro mayor because of the power of his office as well as his interest in regional issues.

It was Barnes who created the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, which was designed to help address the Atlanta region’s transit and traffic issues. But GRTA had a near-fatal flaw. The governor has the power to name every board member, which undermines the region’s ability to determine its own destiny.

Now it is Gov. Nathan Deal’s opportunity to show what kind of leader he will become. The first major test was when he signed an executive order for a Transit Governance Task Force with House Majority Caucus Chair Donna Sheldon (R-Dacula) and Senate Transportation Committee Chair Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) serving as co-chairs.

The other members of the Task Force are Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville), Sen. Ron Ramsey (D-Decatur), Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta), Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain, Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-DeKalb), who chairs the MARTA Oversight Board, the mayors of the City of Atlanta, the City of Riverdale, the City of Johns Creek, and the county commission chairs of Gwinnett, Douglas and Rockdale counties.

Given its state-dominated structure, it is unlikely that the Task Force will give proper respect to the governance structure proposed by the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Transit Implementation Board.

The ARC delicately negotiated a governing body that gave representation to those who invested in transit. As more counties invested in their transit services, they would get a voting seat on the governing body.

It will be telling whether the governor’s task force gives the region control over its transit operations or whether it will make the state in charge — a state that has been reluctant to invest in transit as a mode of transportation.

Giving the Atlanta region greater power to govern as one body — be it through an elected ARC director or through regional governing bodies — would be a step forward in giving the metro area greater respect and helping it define its own destiny.

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8 comments
The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Also, any new and future transit lines (commuter rail and light rail) within that I-75 corridor in Northwest Metro Atlanta should be run along the existing CSX rail lines that run through existing historic downtowns and village areas like Vinings village, Downtown Smyrna, Downtown Marietta, Downtown Kennesaw, Downtown Acworth, Downtown Woodstock (a town that is developing human-scale development in its existing historic town center) and Downtown Canton.

Transit lines on the existing CSX (and Georgia Northeast Railroad) lines have the potential to have an overwhelmingly positive impact on converting land-use patterns from car-dominated sprawl to "human-scale" development that is much more walkable in nature.

Running transit lines along freeway corridors dominated by automobile-scale development on a large scale is not a very good idea

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Also, any new and future transit lines (commuter rail and light rail) within that I-75 corridor in Northwest Metro Atlanta should be run along the existing CSX rail lines that run through existing historic downtowns and village areas like Vinings village, Downtown Smyrna, Downtown Marietta, Downtown Kennesaw, Downtown Acworth, Downtown Woodstock (a town that is developing human-scale development in its existing historic town center) and Downtown Canton. Transit lines on the existing CSX (and Georgia Northeast Railroad) lines have the potential to have an overwhelmingly positive impact on converting land-use patterns from car-dominated sprawl to "human-scale" development that is much more walkable in nature. Running transit lines along freeway corridors dominated by automobile-scale development on a large scale is not a very good idea

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

"Past ARC Chair Sam Olens: Is it time to elect a metro leader?"

That is not necessarily the worst idea that I've ever heard as the Atlanta Region has become so large that it has become impossible for all of the numerous city and county governments to coordinate their actions when needed.

Having an elected government representative between the muncipal level (city mayors and county commission chairs) and the state level (the Governor) could help things get done on a regional level, though there would likely be a helluva lot of opposition to the idea as people would be resistant to any current or additional taxes that might be needed to fund such a regional leader.

People would also be very resistant to anything that might seem like a regional government.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

"Past ARC Chair Sam Olens: Is it time to elect a metro leader?" That is not necessarily the worst idea that I've ever heard as the Atlanta Region has become so large that it has become impossible for all of the numerous city and county governments to coordinate their actions when needed. Having an elected government representative between the muncipal level (city mayors and county commission chairs) and the state level (the Governor) could help things get done on a regional level, though there would likely be a helluva lot of opposition to the idea as people would be resistant to any current or additional taxes that might be needed to fund such a regional leader. People would also be very resistant to anything that might seem like a regional government.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

"Something is wrong when our elected officials are punished for supporting a plan that is in the region’s best interest."

WRONG!!!!! That $856.5 million light rail line from Midtown to the Galleria is NOT in anybody's best-interest at this time.

The people of Cobb County are spending over $1 billion of their own hard-earned money on transportation issues and shouldn't be blamed for having objections to their money not being spent in the most effective way that will help their daily commute.

The Midtown-to-Cumberland light rail line that is proposed to eventually continue up Cobb Parkway to the Town Center Mall area is a horrific waste of very limited resources just as the proposed HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes on Interstates 75 and 575 are a horrific waste of very limited and precious few taxpayer funds.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

"Something is wrong when our elected officials are punished for supporting a plan that is in the region’s best interest." WRONG!!!!! That $856.5 million light rail line from Midtown to the Galleria is NOT in anybody's best-interest at this time. The people of Cobb County are spending over $1 billion of their own hard-earned money on transportation issues and shouldn't be blamed for having objections to their money not being spent in the most effective way that will help their daily commute. The Midtown-to-Cumberland light rail line that is proposed to eventually continue up Cobb Parkway to the Town Center Mall area is a horrific waste of very limited resources just as the proposed HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes on Interstates 75 and 575 are a horrific waste of very limited and precious few taxpayer funds.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

$856.5 billion for a light-rail line that will only run 1.1 miles into Cobb County in a misguided attempt to save a sagging Galleria Mall and aging auto-centric Cobb Parkway corridor? Come on!

$16 billion to build a network of unprofitable tolled managed lanes that will have very little, if any, positive impact on the congested roadways that they are supposed to be "serving"? Gimme a break!

Simple road improvements combined with the development of commuter rail on the existing CSX line that runs through the heart of the I-75/Cobb County Northwest Corridor via Cumberland would be the best targeted use of very limited money.

Building a regional commuter rail network is a much better idea than some overpriced Lexus Lanes that are likely not to ever work to relieve congestion while MARTA needs to be overhauled into something that is much more viable and pallatable to the ENTIRE metro area before being expanded in any way, shape or form.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

$856.5 billion for a light-rail line that will only run 1.1 miles into Cobb County in a misguided attempt to save a sagging Galleria Mall and aging auto-centric Cobb Parkway corridor? Come on! $16 billion to build a network of unprofitable tolled managed lanes that will have very little, if any, positive impact on the congested roadways that they are supposed to be "serving"? Gimme a break! Simple road improvements combined with the development of commuter rail on the existing CSX line that runs through the heart of the I-75/Cobb County Northwest Corridor via Cumberland would be the best targeted use of very limited money. Building a regional commuter rail network is a much better idea than some overpriced Lexus Lanes that are likely not to ever work to relieve congestion while MARTA needs to be overhauled into something that is much more viable and pallatable to the ENTIRE metro area before being expanded in any way, shape or form.

Trackbacks

  1. […] From his interview with Maria Saporta: In other words, electing a regional chair of ARC would create a position that could be considered a metro mayor — having someone whose constituency would be the whole 10-county region rather than just a slice of the area. […]

  2. […] From his interview with Maria Saporta: In other words, electing a regional chair of ARC would create a position that could be considered a metro mayor — having someone whose constituency would be the whole 10-county region rather than just a slice of the area. […]

  3. […] Sam Olens says, we need to work as a region. The widening of Johnson Ferry Road south of the Chattahoochee […]