By Maria Saporta
It is all but certain the Atlanta Regional Commission’s next board chair will be Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens — a first for an Atlanta mayor in the history of the regional planning agency.
At ARC’s Oct. 11 regular board meeting, Chair Kerry Armstrong made it clear he would not be running for another term. That paves the way for Mayor Dickens to be elected at the next ARC board meeting on Nov. 8.
“I’ve been chairman for 10 years,” Armstrong said in a brief interview after the meeting when asked why he did not stand for re-election. “Ultimately, it’s time. We have an exciting candidate who is willing to do the job, and I think that’s terrific. This was never about me versus anybody or anybody versus me.”
Because Dickens was the only nominee for the position, it is unlikely there will be a contested election at the next ARC board meeting scheduled for Nov. 8. The floor will be open for other nominations on that day, but beating the Atlanta mayor would be extremely difficult.
The fact that Armstrong is not running averts what could have been a divisive election. Interestingly enough, when Armstrong was elected to the position in 2013, it took 14 ballots before he was declared the winner.
The transition in chairmanship will occur on Jan. 1, 2024.
“I always thought Atlanta operates as a region and that it’s a good thing for the Mayor of Atlanta to be attentive and participatory in ARC, which is why I went on the LINK trips and have come to the meetings,” Dickens said after the meeting.
With the one exception of former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, recent Atlanta mayors have not been that engaged with the Atlanta Regional Commission.
In fact, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms never attended a single ARC meeting, so she was never sworn in as a board member. Bottoms also never attended the annual LINK trips when more than 100 regional leaders visit another region to learn about best practices.
“I wanted to make sure I put my name in the hat. It’s one of those things I know is significant,” Dickens said. “I think having Atlanta being part of the leadership of the region will allow for more connectivity.”
For decades, ARC’s board chairs have come from either Gwinnett or Cobb counties. All but one of ARC’s board chairs since it was formed in 1971 have been white males, mostly from suburban counties. Mayor Dickens certainly would represent a shift in regional power and leadership.
Dickens said it shouldn’t be rare for the capital city in the region to have a leadership role within ARC. Because Atlanta is centrally located in the 11-county region, he said he would look to bring the region closer together by working on issues that stretch beyond the city limits.
“We won’t draw a line at any border. With us in the middle, we can connect them,” Dickens said, referring to the suburban and urban counties all around Atlanta.
Vince Williams, mayor of Union City, welcomed the idea of Dickens becoming ARC board chair.
“I think this is an awesome opportunity, not only for the mayor of Atlanta but for the Atlanta Regional Commission,” Williams said. “To have the Atlanta mayor sitting in the chairman’s seat, who knows better about regional issues than he does?”
During the meeting, Armstrong asked for nominations for board chair. Michael Caldwell, mayor of the City of Woodstock in Cherokee County, nominated Dickens. Armstrong asked Dickens if he accepted.
“I do accept the nomination,” Dickens said.
“Any other nominations?” Armstrong asked. “Seeing none, we will close nominations for the moment.”
Armstrong, a citizen member from Gwinnett County, has served as ARC’s board chair since Jan. 1, 2014.
In recent months, several ARC participants and observers mentioned that Dickens was interested in running for ARC board chair. Dickens’ nomination was championed by Robb Pitts, chair of the Fulton County Commission, the most populous county in the state. Pitts was out of town, so he was unable to attend Wednesday’s board meeting. Pitts plans to attend the November meeting.