The Atlanta Regional Commission will “not miss a beat” while it is in search of a new director, according to its chairman, Tad Leithead.
In a wide-ranging conversation Sunday afternoon, Leithead shared his views of where the regional planning agency is today and where it’s headed in the future.
And Leithead also made it clear that he would not be a candidate to become the ARC’s next director, a move that several people in the community have suggested.
“When you write up a job description, I won’t be qualified,” Leithead said. “I’m not a planner, and I’ve never managed planners. Chairing the organization and being the director of the organization are two very different skill sets. It’s not something I’ve ever considered.”
No matter what, Leithead is certain to play a major role in ARC’s future now that director Chick Krautler has announced his retirement and with the departure of two other senior staff members last year.
They were: Tom Weyandt, ARC’s director of comprehensive planning (who is now with the City of Atlanta); and Tony Landers, ARC’s director of community services. Both left the organization late last year, and they will not be replaced until a new director is named.
“Between Tony, Tom and Chick, they had a combined experience at ARC for a total of 70 years,” Leithead said. “Any organization that loses that kind of senior leadership will face tremendous challenges. But there also are great opportunities.”
Leithead said that during this transition period, the organization “is still solid and effective.”
With the current staff, he said he is convinced that the organization will be able to provide administrative support for the regional transportation roundtable as it puts together a project list that will be included on the referendum in July 2012.
Also, 20 of the 21 members of the roundtable also serve on ARC’s board, which assures the group will help set the agenda and make decisions. And the meetings are held at the ARC.
“We are not only at the table; we are providing the table,” Leithead said.
In addition to preparing the region for the transportation sales tax referendum, ARC also is working on the Transportation Improvement Plan, which will need to be approved by the board in 2012.
And the commission also is putting together its Plan 2040, an 18-county regional outline for development and transportation needs.
“All that work, we already have put in the extremely capable hands of the staff,” Leithead said. “I’m confident the work we do will continue uninterrupted.”
But the board also has been undertaking more profound changes.
“In 2005, we decided we wanted to have a more engaged and more involved board,” Leithead said. “We want the ARC to be perceived as having teeth in the planning and implementation of the key issues facing this region — water, transportation and aging services.”
Buzz Ahrens, chairman of the Cherokee County Commission, is leading the board’s effort to put together a five-year strategic plan to help steer the organization through its transitions.
Interestingly enough, there has been rather dramatic turnover on ARC’s board among county commission chairs. All the county chairs that had been on the board in 2005 have since left office.
In December2009, Leithead also is the first citizen member to have been elected chairman of ARC’s board. His two opponents for that post — Jack Smith of Fayette County; and Charles Bannister of Gwinnett County — actually are no longer in office or on ARC’s board.
“The question is how do we maintain continuity without defaulting to a bureaucracy,” Leithead said. “We are establishing a five-year plan so that as turnover occurs (on the board) the plan doesn’t change, and the staff always has a continually-renewed five-year plan.”
For the past 38 years, there have only been two directors of ARC — Harry West, who headed the organization for 27 years; and Krautler, who has been director since 2000.
“The ARC is what it is today, to a very great extent, because of the leadership of Harry West, Chick, Tom and Tony,” Leithead said. “They have really defined the ARC for a couple of generations, and now we find ourselves with the challenge of moving on without them.”
This transition to a new director and new senior staff members, ARC has the opportunity to welcome new enthusiasm, energy and ideas.
Leithead then outlined what will come next.
“In very short order, we are going to be announcing an interim management structure made up of a team of existing ARC personnel,” Leithead said. “I certainly feel we will do that within the next couple of weeks.”
At the same time Krautler will remain on board through the end of June, and he can help make sure there’s a smooth transition.
At the same time, Leithead said he would expect to have a defined search process for a permanent director also in the next couple of weeks.
“We need to find the absolute best candidate that we can find — that person may very well be on our staff or that person may very well be in metro Atlanta or that person could be in one of the other 49 states,” Leithead said. “I think we owe it to ourselves to reach out to the most qualified candidates.”
No matter who is selected, that person will have a learning curve. If it’s a professional from outside the region, he or she will have to get to know the players in metro Atlanta and the state. If it’s someone from the Atlanta region, then he or she will have to get to know the complex inner-workings of a regional planning agency.
Leithead does see the value of moving as quickly as possible to resolve the question of leadership
“I would hope we would have someone on board sometime this summer,” he said, adding that he probably won’t chair the search but “will be super involved either way.”
Leithead’s two-year term as chairman will end in December, but he would be eligible to seek another term. “Unless something changes, I will run again,” he said.
While much fluidity currently exists within the Atlanta Regional Commission, Leithead has made a convincing case that the organization will move forward and aspire towards having an even more vital role in the region for years to come.