Hard to reach consensus on Atlanta regional roundtable
By Maria Saporta
It’s not all kumbaya in metro Atlanta.
When the Atlanta Regional Roundtable met Thursday afternoon to squeeze in Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on its executive committee, it was obvious that the region is more fractured that it once was.
Members of the Roundtable objected to what they said was a backroom-type deal between House Speaker David Ralston and the other members of the executive committee to get Reed on the executive committee by getting Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson to resign and be named the non-voting chairman of the committee.
“I’m concerned with the transparency in which we moved,” said Burrell Ellis, CEO of DeKalb County. “It’s evident that some of the members were privy to the actions that would be taken.”
The push to get Reed on the executive committee was made after the original five members that were elected by the 21 member Roundtable were not viewed as being representative of the region. All five were white, and all five represented smaller governments in terms of population, primarily in the suburbs.
“I support the inclusion of Mayor Reed,” Ellis said. “That’s a step in the right direction. Some of us were slightly embarrassed by the results as not inclusive and not representative of the region.”
Ellis was not alone to mention the “fracturing” that had occurred on the Roundtable because of the process.
Clayton Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell seemed to long for the days when there had been a strong consensus among the counties and top leaders in the metro area for a regional transit plan, known as Concept 3.
“We came up with a plan,” Bell said, adding that the Roundtable seemed as though “we are not together. The appearance is that we are divided. Equity is critically important here. I would urge us not to get hung up on finger=pointing. The Speaker was trying to do the best to fix it. It didn’t go far enough.”
Mayor Reed agreed that this was “a step toward equity” and more work needed to occur.
He also reminded Roundtable members that what mattered most was having a unified front in the region.
“The Speaker called a group over to have a discussion,” Reed said. “At the end of the day, 20 very committed individuals (need to be able to show that they) could work and produce something that could be passed.”
Ultimately, the Regional Transportation Roundtable will come up with a project list to present to voters in August 2012 with the hope that they will pass a one-cent regional sales tax.
The fracture also exposed tension between county leaders and city mayors as well as tensions between the more densely populated jurisdictions versus those with smaller populations in the region.
“We have no large county chairs at the table,” Ellis said. “We need a balance of large and small. There’s got to be some parity. Smaller jurisdictions should not out-weigh the larger jurisdictions.”
Thursday’s meeting exposed how hard it was for the 21-member group to decide who should serve on the executive committee.
Unfortunately, it also showed that it will be extremely difficult for that group to reach a consensus on a list of transportation projects for the region — especially one that will be embraced by its voters.