Three men seeking to chair Atlanta Regional Commission

By Maria Saporta

At today’s Atlanta Regional Commission board meeting, three men declared their intention to seek the chairmanship of the 10-county planning organization.

The three, in alphabetical order, are: Charles Bannister, chairman of the Gwinnett County Commission; Tad Leithead, a former executive with Cousins Properties who is now building his own public policy and lobbying firm; and Jack Smith, the chairman of the Fayette County Commission.

One of those three, or possibly someone else who could enter the race between now and December, will succeed Sam Olens, chairman of the Cobb County Commission who has been chairing the organization since 2004.

The ARC chairman actually wields quite a bit of power and influence in the region in the areas that fit under the commission’s umbrella — transportation, water, aging services and the Livable Communities Initiative.

ARC also provides the population and demographic forecasts for the region, and it organizes the annual Regional Leadership Institute and the annual LINK trip where leaders visit another metro area to gain insights on how other communities are addressing their problems.

The personality of the organization often takes on the personality of the chairman. Olens has worked hard to build regional relationships with other government leaders, especially Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin. But he also has always been a strong advocate for Cobb.

In the past decade, the commission has been led by then-Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Wayne Hill (1998-2002); then Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray served one two-year term (2002-2004), the first ARC chairman from the southern part of the region.

The candidates each will make five minute talks at the October ARC board meeting; and elections will be held at the commission’s December meeting.

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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