Should ARC ban developers from its board? Tax groups press the question

By David Pendered

The simmering battle over the structure of regional governance got hot at Wednesday’s meeting of the board of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

 Metro Atlanta residents lined up to protest the proposed revisions of the ARC's bylaws. Credit: David Pendered

Metro Atlanta residents lined up to protest the proposed revisions of the ARC’s bylaws. Credit: David Pendered

At least nine organizations sent representatives to voice opposition to proposed revisions to the ARC’s bylaws. They want the bylaws to prohibit the ARC from seating on its board developers and others who have an interest in development. The proposal does not do that.

“I have a problem with a person or employer who could benefit” from actions taken by the ARC board serving on the ARC board, said Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown.

If Brown isn’t leading the revolt, he certainly is a standard bearer.

The ARC board is scheduled to vote on the proposed bylaws at its September meeting.

At the Feb. 4 meeting of the Fayette County Issues Tea Party, Brown delivered remarks and a presentation that states:

  • “The past and current ARC chairmen are non-elected officials in real estate development who are with community improvement districts, competing for transportation dollars within the region.”

ARC’s past chair was Tad Leithead, who chairs the Cumberland Community Improvement District, which Leithead’s profile says is “directly responsible for almost $3 billion of transportation improvement in Cobb County.”

Leithead also serves on the board of the North Fulton CID, which is chaired by Kerry Armstrong – the current chairman of ARC’s board of directors.

ARC Chairman Kerry Armstrong has come under fire for his work in the development field.

ARC Chairman Kerry Armstrong has come under fire for his work in the development field.

Armstrong now serves as a senior vice president at Pope and Land Enterprises. Armstrong previously served nearly 22 years with Duke Realty, which absorbed his former employer of Weeks Corp. and before that A.R. Weeks and Assoc., and is a past chair of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and a number of other locally significant organizations, according to an announcement of his hiring by Pope & Land.

Incidentally, Armstrong’s former business associate, Ray Weeks, was named in 2005 by then Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin to chair the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, the organization that was to raise private funding to build the public amenities associated with the BeltLine.

For its part, the ARC contends the bylaws revision is a simple housekeeping matter.

The bylaws need to be updated to “align the bylaws with the current operating environment,” according to a summary the ARC released Wednesday. This step is the necessary outcome related to the vote by the ARC board in 2011 to adopt an “Evolution Strategy and Plan,” according to the ARC.

The proposed bylaw changes named in a summary by Cherokee County Chairman Buzz Ahrens include topics such as “Revised purpose, objects and functions language,” and “Updated and clarified board membership and terms of office,” and “Drafted a stand-alone ethics policy.”

Brown says these proposed changes don’t go far enough.

“I don’t hold anything against anybody in this room,” Brown said. “I don’t want anyone to take anything I say that way. … I respectfully disagree with the point of a CID board member being a citizen member of ARC.”

Incidentally, President Obama is the bigger target of these groups’ broader effort to combat what they perceive as efforts to create a mandatory regional government in metro Atlanta.

Groups have united in efforts to oppose certain regional solutions to issues facing metro Atlanta. Credit:

Groups have united in efforts to oppose certain regional solutions to issues facing metro Atlanta. Credit:

Their prime example of the Obama philosophy is the regional transportation sales tax proposed in 2012, which would have compelled counties to participate regardless of their voters’ wishes.

According to the Transportation Leadership Coalition, represented by Field Sercy at Wednesday’s meeting of the ARC board, the ARC’s proposed bylaws will put the ARC even further away from the control of voters.

Sercy was joined by representatives of Common Cause of Georgia, Fayette County Issues Tea Party, Georgia Watchdogs, Unhappy Taxpayers and Voters, Rockdale County Think Tank, and Dunwoody Tea Party in speaking against the proposed bylaws.

“I want you to see that, at the end of the day, taxpayers and voters are in change of this government,” said Viola Davis, president of Unhappy Taxpayers and Voters.

“If these changes are approved, then ARC will go even further off-track than it was intended.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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