Atlanta leaders study policy issues in Phoenix

By Maria Saporta
Friday, May 7, 2010

Metro Atlanta leaders during the recent LINK trip to Phoenix pledged to do all they could to make sure the region passes a sales tax for transportation in 2012.

(see below for list of attendees)

The group of 100-plus leaders, in Phoenix for three days of intensive exposure to the Arizona city’s challenges, said they now have something concrete in which to direct their energies.

The Phoenix LINK (Leadership Involvement Networking Knowledge) trip is the 14th annual visit that metro Atlanta leaders have taken to learn about how different communities approach similar public policy issues, such as transportation, water, education, development, the arts and green space.

The Greater Phoenix area had passed a half-cent sales tax for transportation, which led to the building of 20 miles of light rail with another 37 miles in the works. The money also went to improving roads and other transit. The local dollars raised through the sales tax gave the region a better shot at federal transportation dollars.

For the past decade or more, metro Atlanta leaders have been trying to figure out how to raise additional transportation dollars. During this past legislative session, enabling legislation for a regional transportation sales tax passed to be voted on by the voters in 2012.

“Don’t leave anything to chance,” advised Bryan Jungwirth, chief of staff for the Valley Metro Transit and president of the Arizona Transit Association.

Leaders in the Phoenix metro area developed a multi-million dollar campaign to make sure the sales tax passed. A developer, who opposed the bill, spent $1 million of his own money on a campaign against the sales tax. In the end, the sales tax passed by a vote of 57.7 percent in November, 2004.

Jungwirth did say that about one-third of the sales tax ended going to transit. Because of the success of the light rail line, Jungwirth said that there now is general consensus that a greater share should have gone to transit.

In 2012, regional Atlanta leaders hope to replicate the success that Phoenix has had in passing a transportation sales tax.

“Clearly we have a transportation bill to pass,” summed up Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, which organizes the trip.

That sentiment was repeated by many of the participants.

“There’s been a lot of work by chambers of commerce and political leaders to push for this legislation,” said Any Welch, chairman of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce. “To finally have it passed is a huge victory. The hard part is going to be building the coalition in metro Atlanta. We have to stand united on a plan that’s politically feasible and that we can market to the public.”

The mood on this LINK trip, however, was markedly different than previous trips when metro Atlanta leaders kept getting disappointed by the lack of progress at the state legislature on transportation and other key regional issues.

The trip also was unique because the Atlanta group arrived in a firestorm created by the passage of controversial new immigration legislation that has brought national negative attention to Arizona.

During the closing exercises when different groups presented their lessons learned and takeaways for Atlanta, the immigration issue kept surfacing.

“Thank goodness for Arizona,” Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Renay Blumenthal said jokingly, implying that Georgia looked good by comparison. “Don’t let wedge issues distract you from your agenda. We know what our region’s agenda needs to be.”

The Atlanta leaders also were impressed with the way the Phoenix region had leveraged the relationship between Arizona State University, its downtown areas and light transit. The positive interconnectivity between the university, urban revival and transit were lessons that also applied to the Atlanta region.

“We want to market the positives of Georgia and bring education leaders to the table,” said Mike Bodker, mayor of Johns Creek in Fulton County.

One feature metro Atlanta leaders decided they would like to import to our region is Arizona State University’s “Decision Theater.”

The theater provides the latest technology to help the community visualize the future and realize solutions. It provides tools for policy makers and community leaders to participate in a collaborative decision-making process by help them visualize different scenarios.

The Arizona trip also gave the LINK participants an opportunity to reflect on the value of these annual visits and what they mean to the Atlanta region.

The group was welcomed at the Arizona Biltmore by a reporter and video journalist from CBS-Atlanta who confronted public officials about spending money on such a trip while their various jurisdictions were facing budget shortfalls.

Participants each are responsible for paying their own way — about $2,500 — which covers airfare, meals, hotel and transportation for the three days.

In the past, elected officials who have not gone on the trip have been criticized for not being committed to building strong regional relationships in metro Atlanta.

DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, who had been unable to attend the LINK trip in 2009 because of long-standing commitment, strongly defended his participation in this year’s trip.

“LINK is an opportunity for us to benefit from the experiences of other cities and tailor proven strategies to meet the specific needs of our community,” Ellis said in a statement to counteract CBS-Atlanta’s report. “During the trip, leaders from the Atlanta region will engage in dialogue with their counterparts; exchange ideas, resolutions, and solutions; and explore innovative ideas and programs that help to build partnerships and impact positive community change.”

For Bill Bolling, executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the LINK trips have been invaluable. Bolling is one of three participants who has been on all 14 LINK trips.

“This event, this gathering, makes us more helpful and hopeful. So we all go back to Atlanta intending to do something,” said Bolling, in a talk thanking organizers Tony Landers and Kellie Brownlow. “For 14 years, we have had successful trips. We have been empowered and educated by being together.”


Name Title Organization

Buzz Ahrens: Chairman, Cherokee County

David Allman: Chairman, Regent Partners

Kerry Armstrong: Senior Vice President, Duke Realty Corp.

Josehp Bankoff : President & CEO, Woodruff Arts Center

Charles Bannister: Chairman, Gwinnett County

Brandon Beach: President & CEO, Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce

Laura Beaty: Founder, Alliance Primary Care

Eldrin Bell: Chairman, Clayton County

Kip Berry: Partner, Benchmark Homes

Renay Blumenthal: Senior Vice President-Public Policy, Metro Atlanta Chamber

Mike Bodker: Mayor, City of Johns Creek

Bill Bolling: Executive Director, Atlanta Community Food Bank

Lisa M. Borders: President, Henry W. Grady Health System Foundation

Robert L. Brown Jr.: President/CEO, RL Brown & Associates, Inc.

Luz Borrero: Deputy Chief Operating Officer, City of Atlanta

Lenn Chandler: Region Manager, Georgia Power Co.

Ray Christman: Executive Director, Livable Communities Coalition

Pat Corleto: Senior Vice President, CH2MHILL

Steve Cover: Managing Principal, HOK

Ann Cramer: Director Americas – Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs, IBM

Dennis Creech: Executive Director, Southface

Bob Dallas: Director, GA Governors Office of Highway Safety

Ben DeCosta: General Manager, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Doug Dillard: Partner/Attorney, Dillard & Galloway, LLC

Faye DiMassimo: Director, Cobb County DOT

Lou Douglass: Chairman, Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce

Jim Durrett: Executive Director, Buckhead CID

John Eaves: Chairman, Fulton County

Burrell Ellis: CEO, DeKalb County

Ed Ellis: Regional Vice President, Kimley-Horn & Associates

Matt Forshee: President/CEO, Athens Economic Development Foundation

Rob Garcia: Executive Vice President, Bank of North Georgia

Lesley Grady: Senior Vice President, The Community Foundation

Kevin Green: Executive Director, The Clean Air Campaign

Steve Green: President, Steve Green Properties

Kevin Greiner: President & CEO, Gas South

David Hankerson: County Manager, Cobb County

Randy Hayes: President, Hayes Development Corp.

Michael Hightower: Managing Partner, The Collaborative Firm

Penn Hodge: owner, Penn Hodge LLC

Richard Holmes: SVP of Metro Atlanta Region, Georgia Power

Doug Hooker: VP & District Director- Southern States, PBS&J

Laura Hughes: CEO, Red Fields to Green Fields Atlanta

John Izard: Executive Director, Cushman & Wakefield

Bucky Johnson: Mayor, City of Norcross

Ross King: Executive Director, ACCG

David C. Kirk: Partner, Troutman Sanders

Chick Krautler: Director, Atlanta Regional Commission

Steve Labovitz: Partner, McKenna Long & Aldridge

Terry Lawler: Executive Director, Regional Business Coalition of Metro Atlanta

Brian Leary: President & CEO, Atlanta Beltline, Inc.

Tad Leithead: Chairman, ARC and Cumberland CID

Dana L. Lemon: Board Member – 13th Congressional District, Georgia DOT

Craig Lesser: Managing Partner, Pendleton Consulting Group

Eric Linton: County Administrator, Douglas County

Tim Lowe: CEO, Lowe Engineers

Stephen Macauley: President, Macauley Investment

Andy Macke: VP of Government & Commuity Affairs, Comcast

Frank T. Mann: Senior Director, Cushman & Wakefield

Jim Maran: President and CEO, Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce

Nick Masino: Vice President, Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce

Penny McPhee: President & Trustee, Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation

Ceasar Mitchell: Atlanta City County President, City of Atlanta

Emmy Montanye: Associate, Kimley-Horn

Emory Morsberger: Chairman, Morseberger Group

Al Nash: Past Chairman, Council for Quality Growth

John O’Callaghan: President & CEO, ANDP

Richard Oden: Chairman, Rockdale County Commission

Sam Olens: Partner, Ezor & Olens

Al Outland: Director of Communications, Georgia Municipal Association

Lamar Paris: President, ACCG

Michael Paris: President & CEO, Council for Quality Growth

Stacy Patton: Project Director, Minerva USA

Gerald Pouncey: Senior Partner, Morris, Manning & Martin

Wole Ralph: Vice Chairman, Clayton County

Kasim Reed: Mayor, City of Atlanta

Jim Rhoden: Chairman, Futren Corp.

Sally Riker: associate, Lowe Engineers

Malaika Rivers: Executive Director, Cumberland CID

H. Jerome Russell: President, Russell New Urban Development

Bill Russell: President & CEO, Russell Landscape Group

Maria Saporta: Reporter/Columnist, Atlanta Business Chronicle and

Wassim Selman: Senior Vice President, ARCADIS

Pam Sessions: Owner/President, Hedgewood Realty

Suzanne Sitherwood: President, Atlanta Gas Light

Jack R. Smith: Chairman, Fayette County

Vance Smith: Commissioner, GA Dept of Transportation

Denise Starling: Executive Director, BATMA

Robert Steele: Sr.V.P. of Products & Business Development, Cobb-EMC

Glenn Stephens: County Administrator, Gwinnett County

Jim Stokes: President, Sustainable Solutions Georgia

Woody Thompson: Commissioner, Cobb County

Pat Upshaw-Monteith: President & CEO, Leadership Atlanta

Bob Voyles: Principal & CEO, Seven Oaks Co.

Chuck Warbington: Executive Director, Gwinnett Village CID

Andy Welch: Chairman, Henry County Chamber of Commerce

Tom Weyandt: Director of Comprehensive Planning, Atlanta Regional Commission

Dave Williams: Mayor, City of Suwanee

Sam Williams: President, Metro Atlanta Chamber

Yvonne Williams: President, Perimeter CIDs

Lamar Willis: Council Member, City of Atlanta

Betty Willis: Senior Associate Vice President, Emory University

Jere Wood: Mayor, City of Roswell

Tom Worthan: Chairman, Douglas County

Ben Young: Associate Publisher, Georgia Trend

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

2 replies
  1. blue cracker says:

    too much corporate sponsorship on this trip. it stinks. absent from the list of attendees are the most conspicuously plain and honest metro legislators like Reps. Wilkinson, Willard, Taylor and Abrams. Oh look, I even managed to name two D and two R. Weren’t Jan Jones & Doug Stoner there? and why the need to meet in such a fancy hotel? fancy pants.Report


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