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Fayette Chairman Steve Brown — who has criticized the Atlanta Regional Commission — joins its board

By Maria Saporta

One of the most vocal critics of the Atlanta Regional Commission attended his first board meeting on Jan. 23 as a new board member.

Steve Brown, the recently-named chairman of the Fayette County Commission, was an outspoken critic of last summer’s regional transportation referendum, also known as the T-Splost.

The referendum failed, thanks partly to Brown and the Tea Party’s strident opposition to it and its project list.

On the other hand, the referendum was strongly endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s board and unanimously passed by the 21-member Regional Transportation Roundtable.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

A day after the referendum failed, Brown wrote an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that was highly critical of the process.

Here is an excerpt of that article: “Don’t practice substandard planning. You don’t plan in this order: 1. approve the list of projects; 2. conduct a study on the list, and: 3. approve a regional governance structure over the list. The methodology employed by the ARC for modeling, planning and outreach is biased and remarkably unreliable.”

In a one-hour interview after his first ARC board meeting, Brown stood by what he had written. But the deeper the conversation went, it was apparent that Brown is a complex, unpredictable and hard to define leader in the region’s political landscape.

For example, Brown strongly objected to the list of transit projects included in the referendum saying they could not be built in the 10-year timeframe, that the proposed funding for transit would not cover the costs of building out the system or the costs of operating it after the first 10 years in operation.

Brown said he was concerned about “how you were going to fund an expanded transit system if we can’t afford the transportation system we have today.”

And then Brown quickly points out what appears to be a contradiction.

“I’m probably the only ARC board member who rides MARTA to the meetings,” Brown said, adding that he drives to the College Park station and rides MARTA to the Five Points Station. “It’s more effective for me.”

He goes on to say that he has “a lot of sympathy for MARTA. You’ve got to do it in the most cost-effective way possible.”

At the same time, Brown said he is working to have Fayette County withdrawn from the long-range regional transit plan known as Concept 3.

“We don’t want to be in a regional transit plan,” Brown said. “We are working Fayette County out of Concept 3. We don’t want to be part of a system that doesn’t benefit Fayette County.”

And he went on to say that because Fayette County is more low-density and rural than much of the Atlanta region, Brown said Fayette is having “the discussion of whether it’s worth our being in the Atlanta Regional Commission.”

Having Brown on the ARC board will be fascinating to watch, although other ARC board members are giving him the benefit of the doubt.

“I know there are people who are worried,” Brown said about his fellow ARC board members. “I’m going to bring well-researched, well-thought-out opinions to ARC. I’m not going to support a model or a function of ARC that I don’t believe in.”

Tad Leithead, ARC’s board chairman, said that up to now Brown has been “open-minded” about the organization.

“So far, I haven’t observed that there is a problem,” Leithead said. “He may bring a new perspective that is helpful to us. It’s my expectation that his role on the board will be an asset.”

Mike Bodker, mayor of Johns Creek in North Fulton, remembered having an unfavorable opinion of ARC when he first joined the board.

“Knowing what I know today and knowing what I didn’t know back before I was on the ARC board, I can see where one could draw similar conclusions to Chairman Brown,” Bodker said. “I look forward to Chairman Brown’s involvement on the board and to see how his opinions evolve as he gains more knowledge about the ARC and its purpose.”

Brown, however, said he already knows plenty about the ARC because of various roles he’s had in the region, including being mayor of Peachtree City and being one of the first chairs of the Metro Atlanta Mayor’s Association (MAMA).

While he embraced the T-Splost as being “the first legitimate discussion on transportation that we’ve had in 35 years,” Brown went on to list his problems with the project list and the referendum.

“Biting off an entire region and swallowing it at one time is not the right way to go for the region,” Brown said.

Instead, Brown would like to see counties within the ARC create sub-regions to work on their transportation issues. He points to a project he’s been pushing — the interchange at State Road 74 and Interstate 85 in Fairburn as an example. The proposed project has been endorsed by Fayette, Coweta and Fulton. (By the way, it was on the T-Splost project list).

Brown also favors a fractional sales tax where counties would not have to pass an entire penny sales tax. For example, a sub-region of DeKalb, Rockdale and Gwinnett could pass a half-penny tax while a sub-region of Atlanta, DeKalb and Fulton could pass another fractional tax.

“I always work for resolutions,” Brown said. But then he also added one of his refrains: “Don’t trust government, and especially don’t trust Steve Brown.” And about ARC planning for the entire region, Brown said:  “Central planning didn’t work in Russia.”

But then he adds that one of metro Atlanta’s major problems has been that it has not linked land planning and transportation together.

During the referendum, Brown upset several regional leaders when he questioned the professionalism of ARC’s staff and the work they produced.

“I don’t blame the staff for any of this,” Brown said. “The staff is doing what they’re told to do.”

It may be wishful thinking, but Leithead summed up Brown’s role on the board this way: “Everything that I’ve observed about Steve is that he’s eager to become a positive factor on the ARC board.”

No matter what, it will be fascinating to watch.

Maria Saporta

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.


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  1. ScottNAtlanta January 28, 2013 6:26 pm

    Lets see…Politifact has 2 rated statements for Mr. Brown. False and Half True. He is one of the worst kinds of people in office…self serving. As fas as I and a lot of other people are concerned he can leave and take Fayette Co with him. Why does anyone care what he thinks.Report

    1. The Last Democrat in Georgia January 28, 2013 9:45 pm

       {{” Why does anyone care what he thinks.”}}
      …People care what Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown thinks because he represents Fayette County, a county that, while it may not necessarily be the largest in the scheme of things geographically, demographically or politically in the metro area, sure does know how to raise hell the loudest.Report

  2. Burroughston Broch January 29, 2013 7:16 am

    Hold your friends close and your enemies closer. Exactly the reason Hillary Clinton was Barack Obama’s Secretary of State.Report

  3. margiedempsey333 January 29, 2013 9:51 am

    First, let me say that I don’t know Steve Brown from Adam’s housecat. But I know that someone can be nuanced to some and contradictory to others. If you listen to what they’re saying instead of rushing to judgment, you likely will find they’re thinking about things more deeply than most. Give him a chance.
    The problem with our entire political system from local to national is that everyone is supposed to be strictly “pro” or “con.’ They can’t be seen as someone who actually thinks in the gray areas to get stuff resolved.Report

  4. MARTA Supporter January 29, 2013 1:23 pm

    I saw if Brown and Fayette county don’t want to be part of the ATL metro region let them go. Nothing out there worth while anyway!Report

    1. The Last Democrat in Georgia January 29, 2013 4:45 pm

      If it were as simple as Fayette County leaving the Atlanta region, Fayette (and Cherokee) would have been gone years ago, even before the T-SPLOST disaster of last year.
      But it is not as simple as Fayette (and Cherokee) leaving the Atlanta region as the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) and the 11 other regional planning organizations in the State of Georgia are mandated by federal law.
      For former exurban outer-suburban counties like Fayette and Cherokee to leave the ARC and join another regional planning organization (most likely the neighboring Three Rivers Commission http://www.threeriversrc.com/ which borders the ARC to the south) they would have to get permission from both the State of Georgia and the Federal Government.
      But since Fayette County generates a large portion of the heavy traffic that plagues Interstate 85 through South Metro Atlanta during peak hours (just as Cherokee County generates a particularly-large portion of the even heavier traffic that plagues Interstate 75 through North Metro Atlanta during peak hours) there is virtually no chance of the state and the feds letting reluctant outer-suburban metro counties like Fayette and Cherokee out of the ARC.Report

      1. gt7348b January 31, 2013 4:03 pm

        @The Last Democrat in Georgia It is even more complicated.  Even if Fayette left ARC and joined the Three Rivers Regional Commission, it would still be a limited member of ARC for federal transportation planning purposes with a vote on the Transportation and Air Quality Committee (TAQC) of ARC.  TACQ serves essentially as the federally required body and Fayette can not opt out (though they can choose not to participate).Report

        1. The Last Democrat in Georgia February 1, 2013 6:55 am

          gt7348b, your comment illustrates just how difficult it would be for Fayette County to completely disassociate itself with the ARC and the greater Metro Atlanta as a whole as some in the county would very much seemingly like to.
          Though, it is worth mentioning that Forsyth County, in North Metro Atlanta, is not part of the Atlanta Regional Commission but rather is a member of the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission (the GMRC), despite Forsyth having about 75,000 more people than Fayette and generating more of the severely-heavy peak-hour traffic that plagues Georgia 400 than Fayette generates on I-85 South each workday.
          But Forsyth County has slightly more political influence at the statewide level than does Fayette and Forsyth County’s affiliation with the GMRC likely predates the era that Forsyth was overtaken by the continued intense growth of population and development of North Metro Atlanta.Report

    2. The Last Democrat in Georgia January 29, 2013 6:40 pm

      The relationship between formerly exurban outer-suburban counties like Fayette and Cherokee and the rest of the Atlanta metro area is a complicated one.
      The economies and tax bases of outer-suburban counties like Fayette and Cherokee have boomed over the last three decades because of those counties’ location next to and squarely in the path of what has been one of the fastest-growing and fastest-expanding metropolitan areas on the continent since the end of World War II.
      Outer-suburban and exurban counties like Fayette and Cherokee love the economic activity and the upscale suburban lifestyle that comes with being located next to one of the fastest-growing and fastest-expanding metro areas in the nation.
      But those outer-suburban and exurban counties with high per-capita income earners like Fayette and Cherokee deathly fear the prospect of being overwhelmed and overrun with excessive development and the blight, crime and extreme-overcrowding that comes with it as has happened to formerly exurban and suburban but now highly-urban Metro Atlanta counties Cobb and Gwinnett. 
      People in outer-suburban counties like Fayette and Cherokee understandably don’t want their semi-rural communities to be completely overrun with the type of excessive development that has turned once-exurban counties like Cobb and Gwinnett into increasingly densely-populated and increasingly urban communites (due in large part to those counties’ developer-dominated and driven political cultures) and counties like neighboring Fulton and Clayton into almost complete political basketcases.
      The relationship between outer-suburban counties like Fayette and Cherokee is not completely unlike the complicated relationship that a formerly ultra-conservative exurban and now very-urban Cobb County had with a very-liberal and urban City of Atlanta for the roughly 30-year period between the late 1960’s and the early 2000’s when Cobb County was transitioning from exurban bedroom community to being a key part of the urban core of the Metro Atlanta region. 
      Though, the relationship between traditionally predominantly-white and ultraconservative suburban Cobb County and a liberal and predominantly-black City of Atlanta was substantially more antagonistic at times than is the relationship between a much larger and more diverse Metro Atlanta and outer-suburban Fayette and Cherokee counties.Report

  5. The Last Democrat in Georgia January 29, 2013 7:31 pm

    {{“Instead, Brown would like to see counties within the ARC create sub-regions to work on their transportation issues. He points to a project he’s been pushing — the interchange at State Road 74 and Interstate 85 in Fairburn as an example. The proposed project has been endorsed by Fayette, Coweta and Fulton. (By the way, it was on the T-Splost project list).”}}
    Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown nor any other local or municipal official should have to press that hard for long-overdue improvements to be made at the intersection of two very-busy STATE-maintained highways at Georgia 74 and Interstate 85.
    Fayette, Coweta and Fulton nor any other counties in the state of Georgia should have to join together to either come up with their own funding schemes or repeatedly press the state to take action to make improvements at the busy intersection of two STATE-maintain highways that have been needed for at least close to two decades.
    The State of Georgia should have come with the funding on their own, as they are required to do by the Constitution of the State of Georgia, and built at-least a 2-lane-wide flyover ramp from I-85 Southbound to Georgia 74 Southbound back in the early-to-mid 1990’s at the absolute latest.
    With the explosive growth that has gone on in the Georgia 74 South corridor, particularly in the Tyrone area and, ESPECIALLY in regards to the Peachtree City area over the last two decades or so, there is no way that we should still be having this conversation about making needed upgrades to this interchange at this advance date.
    Again, for like the ZILLIONTH time, it is the RESPONSIBILITY OF THE STATE OF GEORGIA to fund, initiate and coordinate construction and maintenance projects on STATE-maintained highways.
    City and county governments should not be on their own when it comes to making needed improvements to state-maintained highways because the State of Georgia is too incompetent to fund and maintain its own highway network.Report

  6. BPJ January 31, 2013 10:34 pm

    Brown favors a more flexible bill than the TSPLOST – one that allows counties to either do their own projects or team up with a few neighboring counties, and which allows fractional sales tax rather than requiring 1 cent tax. I do too, which is why I supported the Local Growth Bill. It is far more flexible than the TSPLOST, and it almost passed a couple of years ago.
      Projects which genuinely concern the entire metro region should be planned & funded by the STATE  DOT>Report

    1. The Last Democrat in Georgia February 1, 2013 6:08 am

       {{“Projects which genuinely concern the entire metro region should be planned & funded by the STATE DOT”}}
      You can say that again…and again…and again…
      Heck, not only can and should you say that again, but all Georgia Department of Transportation employees and members of the Georgia Legislature should be required to write that phrase on a chalkboard at least 1,000 times each so that that very-critically important point sinks in…
      Projects which genuinely concern the entire metro region should be planned & funded by the STATE DOT.
      Projects which genuinely concern the entire metro region should be planned & funded by the STATE DOT.
      Projects which genuinely concern the entire metro region should be planned & funded by the STATE DOT.
      Projects which genuinely concern the entire metro region should be planned & funded by the STATE DOT.
      Projects which genuinely concern the entire metro region should be planned & funded by the STATE DOT.
      Projects which genuinely concern the entire metro region should be planned & funded by the STATE DOT.
      And so on and so on…
      The State of Georgia, by-way of the Georgia Department of Transportation, should be playing the dominant lead role in projects like a critically-needed COMMUTER RAIL-anchored REGIONAL TRANSIT network (that consists of trains, buses and both public and private vanpools) and the long-overdue redesign and reconstruction of freeway interchanges on GDOT-MAINTAINED highways (at too many freeway interchanges to count) because that is the state’s job…To ADEQUATELY coordinate, initiate, plan, fund and maintain the state’s transportation network.
      And the way that the State of Georgia is managing is managing its own transportation network is ANYTHING and EVERYTHING BUT “adequate” or even acceptable at the moment.Report

  7. Bill30097 January 3, 2014 9:08 pm

    ScottNAtlantaPolitifact has been proven to be nothing more than left wing bullshit.Report


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