By John Ruch
MARTA’s former deputy general manager has explained his surprise departure this month as a firing “without cause” on grounds that the transit agency is “going in a different direction.”
Josh Rowan’s departure – only five months after his high-profile hiring – was announced to MARTA staff on Jan. 5 without explanation and without any public notice. A former commissioner of the Atlanta Department of Transportation, he was tasked by MARTA with speeding the delivery of major projects and engaging with communities to determine whether some of those lines should be served by rail or bus. His departure only deepened confusion about MARTA’s schedule and direction amid intense controversies like Atlanta BeltLine transit and Campbellton Road bus rapid transit.
In a Jan. 13 LinkedIn post, Rowan gave an explanation. “Many have asked what happened,” he wrote. “The simple answer is I was fired by MARTA’s general manager.”
That’s Collie Greenwood, who was serving as interim general manager at the time of Rowan’s hiring last summer and who won the permanent job in October.
Rowan wrote that he was fired on Jan. 5. The following is his version of the event:
“I was alone in a conference room when the general manager entered with the assistant general manager for human resources. There were only three people in the room. The general manager told me I was fired and that ‘we [MARTA] are going in a different direction.’ He shook my hand and left the room. After the general manager left the room, the assistant general manager for human resources communicated that I was being fired without cause, effective immediately, and with no severance pay. I returned my MARTA-owned equipment on the spot, exited the building without escort or incident, and drove home. Those are the facts.”
Asked if he is considering any legal action against MARTA related to the firing, Rowan declined to comment.
MARTA spokesperson Stephany Fisher confirmed Rowan was fired and that “it was not for cause, meaning he didn’t violate any sort of policy or anything.” She could not immediately provide comment from Greenwood, but said that he believed it was better to move ahead with Rowan’s replacement, Interim Chief Capital Officer Carrie Rocha. “It’s not a new direction,” Fisher said. “…I think that is what Collie saw as a good way to head with these programs.”
Rowan’s post thanked the transit agency’s Capital Projects Expansion and Innovation team, while also warning of project delivery challenges and revealing an insider budget shortfall projection that affects such funds as the “More MARTA” sales tax pot.
“You have a monumental task ahead of you to re-baseline the capital programs, considering a month ago, a third-party financial capacity analysis draft report projected a revenue shortfall in excess of $1 billion for More MARTA Atlanta and a revenue shortfall in excess of $160 million for Clayton County,” he wrote. “It will be a monumental challenge to deliver these voter-approved portfolio of SPLOST [special local option sales tax] projects in any sort of timely manner.”
Fisher said those numbers are “not accurate.” She said a third-party company is indeed analyzing MARTA revenue for anticipated shortfalls and funding sources, but that it involves a variety of models that have yet to produce final recommendations, which should come in about a month. “And whatever the result is, that’s not the only one nor is it a new one,” she said of Rowan’s report.
Fisher also said that MARTA project delivery is unaffected by Rowan’s departure. “That hasn’t been impacted by this,” she said. “That continues, and Carrie was a huge part of this while Josh was here.”
A lifelong metalhead, Rowan concluded his post by quoting “Ride On,” a transportation-themed break-up song from the legendary rock band AC/DC on its album “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.”
“In closing, everyone has asked, ‘What is next?’” he wrote. “Allow me to quote one of my favorite bands, AC/DC: ‘But I know what I’m going to do……I’m gonna ride on.’”
Update: This story has been updated with Rowan’s response to a comment request.