MARTA is down to four finalists in its search for a new general manager

By Maria Saporta

The search for a new MARTA general manager has been narrowed to four candidates — an internal one and three from outside the state.

MARTA’s current general manager, Beverly Scott, will be leaving by the end of the year when her five-year term runs out.

Scott has been heading the state’s largest transit system through a tumultuous period of declining revenues, polarizing political forces and diminishing prospects of a reinvestment in an improved and expanded regional transit system.

The four finalists are thought to be as follows:

* Dwight Ferrell, MARTA’s current deputy general manager and chief operating officer;

* Keith Parker, president and CEO of VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio;

* Paul Jablonski, CEO of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System; and

* Stephen Bland, CEO of the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh.

So far, it appears that the MARTA search committee has yet to reach consensus on who the new general manager should be.

Part of the problem appears to be that none of the finalists have ever run a transit system that is similar in scale to metro Atlanta’s MARTA system, the ninth largest transit system in the United States (for now).

External observers have questioned the wisdom of even doing a search for a new MARTA general manager during this period of great uncertainty for the transit system’s future.

Consider the challenges:

A looming issue is that of regional transit governance, which potentially could undermine the role and authority of MARTA. A regional transit governance bill that was being proposed during the last legislative session would have given the state the ultimate say on the region’s transit systems.

But that effort failed partly because of fairness. The state has not been willing to contribute annual operating support for MARTA in particular or for transit in general.

The point was made that the local jurisdictions that contribute to a transit system’s operations should have governing control of the agency.

It is not known how the governance issue will be resolved. It is understandably difficult to hire top tier candidates for a new MARTA general manager when the long-term job prospects are in question and what that person’s duties would be in a new transit governance system is implemented.

The other major challenge is funding for ongoing operations and for upgrading MARTA’s infrastructure to a state-of-good repair, much less expanding the now skeletal system.

The regional transportation referendum for a one-percent sales tax in the 10-county region would have provided $600 million to go towards improving MARTA’s infrastructure and more than $700 million for a new rail line between Lindbergh MARTA station to the Emory University area.

Keith Parker

The transportation sales tax was resoundingly defeated — a move that keeps MARTA in a state of limbo.

Meanwhile, dozens of other cities around the country are busy investing in their transit systems, and it would make sense that up-and-coming transit administrators would rather go to communities that were expanding their rail and bus systems.

In other words, the great concern is that given our region’s current situation can MARTA really attract a top tier general manager to head the agency.

The MARTA search committee, which has been assisted by the Heidrick & Struggles search firm, has come up with a list of four finalists, a list that was not confirmed by transit agency.

Ferrell has actually had two stints at MARTA. He returned to the agency in 2008 after having been in Atlanta from 1999 to 2001.

Paul Jablonski

He was executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Austin Texas. He also had various executive positions with the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART).

Parker joined the VIA Metropolitan Transit system in 2009 after having served with the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) — an organization he joined in 2000 as chief operating officer.

From 2004 to 2007, Parker became assistant city manager for the City of Charlotte. He was then named as the CEO of CATS in 2007, a position he held for about two years. Parker also was CEO of the Clark County Transit Authority in Vancouver Washington.

Stephen Bland

Jablonski joined San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System in October, 2003 — a system that operates buses and streetcars.

Before arriving in San Diego, Jablonski was CEO and general manager of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority in Cincinnati, Ohio. He also had served as general manager for ATE management for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) and general manger of the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority near Boston.

Bland became CEO of the Port Authority of Allegheny County in 2006 overseeing the system’s bus, light rail and para-transit service.

Before moving to Pittsburgh, Bland was executive director of the Capital District Transportation Authority in Albany, N.Y. He also is a past chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Transportation Association and a past president of the New York Public Transit Association.

It is not known when MARTA will reach a consensus on a new general manager.

In response to an open records request on the search, MARTA’s attorney Charles Pursley provided this response in an email sent on August 24:

The MARTA Board of Directors is conducting a national search for candidates to fill this position. Public disclosure of records which identify persons applying for or under consideration for employment or appointment as executive head of an agency is not required under the Georgia Open Records Act, provided that at least 14 days prior to the meeting at which final action or vote is to be taken, all documents concerning as many as three persons under consideration must be subject to inspection and copying.

No meeting has been scheduled at which final action or vote is to be taken on the selection of the person to fill the position. All documents required to be disclosed will be made available for inspection and copying at least 14 days prior to such meeting. Thank you for your interest in this important decision for MARTA.

Frederick Daniels, who currently is chairing MARTA’s board, did tell the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the agency will announce its new general manager within 30 days.

Daniels said there were four finalists. He also told the newspaper that he initially had been concerned about what kind of interest there would be in the job. But since then, Daniels said that he has realized that “it is a very desirable position.”

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5 comments
inatl
inatl

Actually it sounds like the legislators want the internal candidate.  

 

Though again the most of the legislators aren't elected by MARTA taxpayers or riders so I think they need to recognize that.   The MARTA board has highly competent people on it.  I would say more competent than the legislators. 

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

First thing...it would be a huge mistake to pick a candidate from within the current structure.  This would do nothing to help MARTA's image with the rest of the metro.  This is also going to have to be someone who can deal with the legislature, yet maintain the trust of current MARTA supporters...tuff call

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 Saying someone is more competent than the Georgia Legislature is a really extremely ridiculously low standard of competency to achieve as everyone (convicts, the mentally impaired, the mentally ill, etc) and everything (animals, insects, inanimate objects, etc) is more competent than the Georgia Legislature at this point.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @ScottNAtlanta

Unfortunately, MARTA's financial situation is so dire and the transit agency's image with the rest of the metro area is likely so far beyond repair after years of neglect by the state and internal mismanagement that it probably does not matter whether the agency picks a candidate from within or outside the current structure as MARTA seems to be in such a state of steep and irreversible decline that the state will likely end up managing the agency in the not-too-distant future unless there is some highly-improbable and surprising massive infusion of cash from somewhere. 

 

Besides, if dealing with the Legislature were the main part of the criteria for selecting a new General Manager, the only candidates that MARTA would be considering for the job would be rodents (rats), untamed zoo animals, cold-blooded reptiles (lizards and poisonous snakes), bloodsucking insects, lying cheating backstabbing pickpocketing cutthroats and the heavily bacterial-infused slime that coats the insides of sewers...You know, the types of individuals that the Legislators can relate to on a personal level.