By Maggie Lee
MARTA Chief Counsel Elizabeth O’Neill will temporarily take over leadership of MARTA as the transit agency seeks a permanent replacement for outgoing general manager and CEO Keith Parker.
“She’s been at MARTA a long time … she’s gotten the confidence of everybody in the building and I think it’s also important that she is not interested in the job long-term,” said MARTA board Chair Robbie Ashe on Thursday at agency headquarters at Lindbergh, just after the board voted to appoint O’Neill.
“So she allows us to have a true search for the next great general manager of MARTA,” he said.
O’Neill declined to speak to reporters just after the appointment, which starts immediately. She joined MARTA in 1995 and has held several legal posts at the agency.
“We’re going to do a true national search” for a new general manager, said Ashe. A search committee of five board members will solicit proposals from national headhunting firms to take on the search for the next leader.
Ashe said it could take six to eight months to get a new general manager in office. He also said they will undertake an executive pay study to “understand what it will take” to hire the next general manager.
“We do know … as a board that we are committed to taking our time, working through the process, the same process that we used six years ago that obviously produced some exceptional results,” said Ashe.
News of Parker’s departure came earlier this week. He is leaving the agency in about the middle of October to run Goodwill of North Georgia.
After the board meeting, Parker said that he and his family want to stay in the Atlanta area, rather than move far, because his daughter will be going to the University of Georgia. But he also said that after 25 years in the transit business, it’s time for a change.
“It’s not so much that I wanted to leave the transit industry, but I want to try something different as a person,” he said.
The next leader will inherit an agency that’s well-regarded by state leaders and that’s fiscally healthy. It’s also at the start of two major voter-approved expansions that will be bankrolled by sales taxes: bringing Clayton County into the MARTA system and growing services in Atlanta.
The next leader will have some challenges as well. MARTA, unlike other big transit agencies, doesn’t get any state funding. Some state lawmakers have hinted at a possibility of changing that, but cash to enhance transit in the metro would still be a tough sale at the Gold Dome. There’s also a possibility that DeKalb County and the parts of Fulton outside of Atlanta will ask their voters for a sales tax for transit expansion next year.
The search committee will recommend a firm to be engaged by the general manager to begin the search. Ashe said he expects the search to be underway by the next board meeting, Oct. 5.