To: All Elected Representatives (state and local)
CC: The ARC Board, Media
Subject: Atlanta Regional Commission Proposed Bylaws Change
This letter is to inform you of the proposed governing bylaws change for the Atlanta Regional Commission. There has been very little coverage in the media and the last two monthly newsletters from the ARC have not made any mention of it. The changes are being characterized as just “housekeeping” since they were last modified in 1971, although we believe they are far more sweeping and significant than just housekeeping.
There’s an ongoing concern and debate about the new bylaws that you should be aware of as it relates to accountability, local control and protection of “Home Rule” as provided for in the Georgia Constitution. Even the Metropolitan Atlanta Mayors Association has concerns as well as several county commission chairmen who currently sit on the ARC Board.
For a quick overview from an inside perspective, please watch this 4 minute video by Fayette County Chairman Steve Brown.
In July, the Transportation Leadership Coalition, the grassroots organization that mounted a campaign to stop the TSPLOST, released a critique of the proposed bylaws. You can download the full critique here. Our concerns are summarized as follows:
- Past and current ARC Chairmen are appointed chairmen of Community Improvement Districts. The Georgia Constitution and Georgia Law prove that CID’s are political subdivisions. Even the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank which provides funding only to government entities lists CID’s as eligible to receive funds. The ARC has violated its own bylaws since citizen “members at large may hold no elective or appointed public office nor be employed by any political subdivision of the area”.
- Bylaws don’t provide term limits for appointed members. Some citizen members have served for 15 years.
- The Transportation and Air Quality Committee has a quorum rule of only 40% to make decisions. We’ve never seen a board or committee that has approval authority of millions of dollars have a quorum less than 50%.
- New Governance Committee creates an excessive centralization of power into the chairman’s role with no established term limits. The Chairman appoints a slate of officers and Committee Chairs approved by the board. There is not a provision to guarantee that officers or committee chairs are duly elected county commissioners and mayors. This removes accountability to the voting public.
- ARC directs federal money toward transportation projects within CID’s. When the chairman of the ARC can be the chairman of a CID and also be employed by a firm that has major real estate investments in the CID, this creates a potential for inside deals to favored business interests and inhibits free market competition. This conflicts with the ARC Ethics Policy.
- Although the public comment policy was changed at the last ARC meeting, only a scant 10 minutes is allowed for a board that serves a population of over 5 million. Even then, it is a policy that can be modified by the chairman at any time.
Because the Atlanta Regional Commission has taxing authority on a per capita basis for each person living within the Atlanta Metropolitan area, this taxation entitles the citizens to representation. In addition, the ARC has influence on expenditure of federal, state and local dollars which also come from the taxpayers. When councils of government are appointed they are not accountable to the people. This is “taxation and legislation without representation”.
Trust in government is at an all-time low. These changes only centralize more power into the chairman. Let us make this perfectly clear, if enacted, the new Governance Committee would allow a small group of appointed people to make decisions about federal, state and local dollars instead of duly elected representatives who are accountable to the people. We do not need a situation where a handpicked group around the board chairman will have the ability to pick winners and losers in the Atlanta Metro area. This will only lead us away from more open, transparent and accountable governance.
We urge you to contact your colleagues that serve on the ARC Board and ask them where they stand in regard to these bylaws changes.
ARC Public Comment Policy Falls Short
By Field Searcy
September 28, 2014
Last Wednesday, twelve private citizens addressed the Atlanta Regional Commission about the adoption of a more friendly public comment policy at the monthly board meetings. For some on the board, the comments were not welcomed. Maybe they were offended by the tone or the political correctness. Maybe the words cut to close too home. Or, maybe they’ve forgotten the price that was paid to secure the right.
The very foundation of the First Amendment was the right of political speech of the people to petition their government or challenge its authority. The ARC receives federal, state and local money. Its existence is the creature of government legislation at the state and federal level even its structure violates the republican form of government. In every way, it is bound by the Constitution for the United States and the Georgia Constitution. In fact, the board members all swear an oath of allegiance to the same.
While all the ARC board members have busy lives and political careers, they should never be too busy to hear from the people that have delegated representative authority to them.
Indeed, the policy adopted is more liberal than the previous policy which required a 10 day notice, a motion by a board member, a second and a 2/3rd’s vote. The new policy on public comment remains inadequate for the following reasons.
- For a regional commission for 10 counties and a metropolitan planning organization (MPO) of 20 counties representing more than 5 million people, allowing a total of only 10 minutes with up to 2 minutes per person is not sufficient. Even Cobb County, which has recently been under fire for limiting public comment, has a more liberal policy.
- Given the limited amount of time allotted for public comment, safeguards should have been included to allow time for all points of view to be heard. Witness the backlash that was caused in Cobb by stacking of the deck with supporting voices against the citizens with opposing views. A true consultative approach of allowing differing opinions should be protected. A wise person once said “The shining spark of truth, cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions.”
- Public comment should be guaranteed directly in the ARC governing bylaws rather than a policy that can be changed “from time to time.”
The ARC Board passed the new policy with a vote of 19-7. We don’t believe the 7 that voted “no” are against free speech. Quite the contrary, we believe they wanted the sounding committee to rework the policy with some of the reasons cited above in mind. We salute them for their courage to not vote in lockstep with the rest. This was really the significant event since rarely is there ever a dissenting vote on any ARC Board decisions.
For too long, the people have been asleep and silent; not paying attention to what our elected representatives have been doing. We were too busy or too trusting to notice that authority was being subverted to unelected persons that cannot be held accountable to the people.
That is no longer the case. All across the spectrum, a political awakening is taking shape. The citizens are coming together, rediscovering that “We The People” are the sovereigns’ of the government and are reclaiming our rightful place to keep the government accountable and safeguard our liberties.
Field Searcy, a Cobb citizen, represents RepealRegionalism.com an education campaign by the Transportation Leadership Coalition, LLC which led the grassroots effort against the Regional Transportation Tax (TSPLOST) in 2012.
Permission to reprint is granted with full attribution.
We need you to help us fill the auditorium for this event. Be present to show your support for open, transparent, and accountable government.
What: Atlanta Regional Commission is updating their governing bylaws
When: Wednesday, October 22, 2014 , 1:00 PM
Where: Loudermilk Center, 40 Courtland Street, NE, Level C , Atlanta, GA
If you live in the 10 county Atlanta Regional Commission, ask your county commission chairman and / or mayor how they plan to vote on September 24th.
If they don’t sit on the ARC Board now, ask them did they know that their counterparts are voting on governing bylaws that could take away their local authority.
Ask them if they want an appointed committee picking winners and losers in the Atlanta Metro area.
Watch the following short video by Steve Brown, Fayette County Commission Chairman explain what is happening from the inside.
CRITICAL BYLAWS ISSUES
- Bylaws don’t provide term limits for appointed members. Some citizen members have served for 15 years.
- Past and current ARC Chairmen are appointed chairmen of Community Improvement Districts. The Georgia Constitution and Georgia Law prove that CID’s are political subdivisions. The ARC has violated its own bylaws since citizen “members at large may hold no elective or appointed public office nor be employed by any political subdivision of the area”.
- New Governance Committee creates an excessive centralization of power into the chairman’s role with no established term limits. Chairman may appoint members outside of the current duly elected county commissioners and mayors. Removes accountability to the public.
- ARC directs federal money toward transportation projects within CID’s. When the chairman of the ARC can be the chairman of a CID and also be employed by a firm that has major real estate investments in the CID, this creates a potential for inside deals to favored business interests and inhibits free market competition.
Download a full critique on the proposed bylaws: TLC Critique of Proposed ARC Bylaws – 07312014
Download this announcement as a printable flyer: ARC Bylaws Meeting Flyer
Link to Atlanta Regional Commission to download current and proposed bylaws.
June 2, 2103 By Andre Jackson
As metro Atlanta motorists know too well, slow going — however frustrating — beats no going on the overworked roads and expressways that underserve us on the best of days.
Atlanta Journal Constitution
June 2, 2013
By Field Searcy
With trust in government in short supply, finding a way to handle critical road projects that actually relieve traffic congestion in metro Atlanta is desperately needed.
4:24 pm April 25, 2013, by tsabulis
Atlanta Journal Constitution, Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Last summer’s transportation sales tax defeat and a series of divisive political feuds has set back the idea of effective regional solutions for metro Atlanta. Yet proponents say regionalism is an appropriate and necessary approach to solving big problems that local jurisdictions cannot. Opponents remain suspicious of appointed — that is, unelected — regional commission leaders making important decisions for so many.
There are three columns today. Commenting is open below.
Join together, tackle problems
By Mike Bodker
For me, regionalism is the recognition that problems do not respect jurisdictional boundaries.
A healthy and growing metro Atlanta is hinged on a reputation for excellent quality of life. That reputation will ultimately depend on our ability to work together to support the reality.
A great example here in Johns Creek is the Ga. 141 corridor. This road is the primary gateway between our residents and those north of our border to metro Atlanta. It is plagued daily with stop-and-go traffic. Unless we work with the five other jurisdictions that road traverses, the problem will only worsen.
The same is true on State Bridge Road, which touches on Ga. 120 in Alpharetta and becomes Pleasant Hill in Gwinnett.
Without the proper coordination, our moving traffic more swiftly through Johns Creek will only get it to the next traffic jam faster. We need a regionally coordinated traffic plan, or we are all just spinning our wheels.
Like our Northside neighbors, Johns Creek believes in innovation. By working together with Sandy Springs and Dunwoody, we launched Chatcomm, a regional 911 service that has resulted in reduced response times in those municipalities.
When appropriate, Northside police and fire departments coordinate and pool resources.
Johns Creek shares significant borders with Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, including joint safety responsibilities along the Chattahoochee River. When a person needs to be rescued and the swift water team is called in, no one is checking residency.
Finally, a successful regional transit plan is imperative.
While a one-size solution will not suit each individual in metropolitan Atlanta, we all must realize the issue is collective. Citizens simply will not use public transportation until it becomes convenient, safe and cost effective.
Without a reasonable way to get more workers out of their cars and into some form of transit, we will continue to be the traffic capital of the South. Failure to act regionally on this issue has put a stranglehold on jobs growth.
While we continue to attract businesses, we could do far better if we could all come to the table and work together to hone and implement a coordinated solution.
Regionalism is essential. We should and must come together to solve great problems with even greater solutions.
Mike Bodker is mayor of Johns Creek.
Rethink government, increase prosperity
By Catherine Ross
The Atlanta region is a crosscutting confluence of economic, social and environmental challenges and opportunities.
Depending upon how “region” is defined (that is, by the Environmental Protection Agency, Atlanta Regional Commission or U.S. Census Bureau), the area may contain as many as 28 counties, 140 municipal governments and 5.5 million residents.
This complexity, alongside the mounting fiscal crisis and increasing global competition, means we must rethink our governance structure if the region is to remain competitive.
Regionalism focuses on the mutual interests of geographic areas that may include multiple towns, cities, country subdivisions or subnational entities. The objective of regionalism is to increase the collective prosperity, influence and political power of not just one, but multiple locations.
Metro Atlanta contains multiple political jurisdictions and as such, is well-suited for a regional approach to governance. David Kocieniewski pointed out in The New York Times, “The crazy quilt of municipal governments that ring the metropolitan area (usually) grew for an assortment of personal, cultural, economic and political reasons, most having little to do with the best use of tax dollars or the reality of services.”
Political fragmentation has made it difficult, if not impossible, to address multi-jurisdictional economic development, service provision, infrastructure needs and finance. This is not uncommon in locations where a regional voice and institutional foundations are weak or nonexistent when considered more broadly.
In recent times, areas have responded to this fragmentation by creating inter-municipal cooperation or functional consolidation agreements. These regional pacts are often focused on the delivery of a specific service.
While these more restricted solutions have proven helpful, they often lack the ability to engender “broader multi-functional coordination.”
As such, regionalism is now being considered as an effective and evolving platform. It has the potential to achieve seamless transportation and greater connectivity between people, places and economic activity.
For metro Atlanta, this approach to regionalism is not only possible, it is desirable.
Catherine Ross is a professor at the School of City and Regional Planning, and deputy director of the National Center for Transportation Productivity and Management, at Georgia Tech.
Regional control isn’t local
By Field Searcy
The nice thing about local government is that citizen voters can control it. People know who their local city councilmen and county commissioners are because they live nearby, and they were elected. If citizens do not like local government decisions, they simple elect someone who will serve them better. Now, try asking your neighbor, “Who serves on the board of our Regional Commission?” and watch the puzzled look on their face. Most citizen voters are unaware who is serving in these positions of authority because the members are either appointed or don’t run for the position.
Regionalism as implemented in Georgia is an unelected and unaccountable form of government that dilutes the power people have over government decision-making. The U.S. Constitution guarantees each state a republican form of government, which means sovereignty rests with the people, and representatives are “chosen by the people.”
Regional governance lacks these checks and balances because regional commissions are in essence appointed by an operation of law. For example, 15 of the 38 members of the Atlanta Regional Commission are appointed citizen members who have absolutely no accountability to voters. Also, most of the elected officials on regional entities have no accountability to your county or city. You can’t control the actions of regional governments, because you can’t control most of the regional board members.
Many of the appointed members have their own agendas.
The rise of regionalism, like what we get from the Transportation Investment Act (TIA), comprises another layer of government between the local city-county and state government. This new layer of bureaucracy diminishes the local control and authority of city and county governments for self-government through “home rule” as provided for in the Georgia Constitution. Local control is further buttressed by the founders’ belief, “That government closest to the people governs best!”
Creating a regional tax base or regional equity is a form of central planning. The problems created in one county are paid for by taxpayers from another. The Georgia Constitution requires that state-level taxation be uniform and equal across the state. Citizens across the state will be furious when they discover their tax dollars — $8.6 million so far — are being used to subsidize bus fares for Georgia Regional Transportation Authority Xpress service that serves metro Atlanta commuters.
Regional cooperation is necessary, and flexible solutions need to be developed to allow counties to work together to solve problems of mutual interest. However, regional governance and taxation as implemented in Georgia means more bureaucracy, more taxes and less accountability. The majority of metro Atlantans and voters across the state said they don’t like regional power grabs or mandated regionalism. Regional taxation and governance needs to be repealed.
Field Searcy, a Cobb County resident, represents RepealRegionalism.com, an education campaign by the Transportation Leadership Coalition. The coalition led the grassroots effort against the Regional Transportation Tax (T-SPLOST) in 2012.
11:27 am April 22, 2013, by Andre Jackson, Editorial Editor
By Tom Sabulis – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Regionalism. The word has almost taken on a pejorative meaning in metro Atlanta. A lot of people have come to dislike it, or at least, what it implies. It was all but tarred and feathered during the bitter fight last year over the proposed transportation sales tax, which aimed to fund regionalized solutions to our traffic mess.
Even the chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, says he’d like to move away from using the term because “it carries so much baggage.”
No doubt, he’d find some agreement among those behind the Georgia website www.repealregionalism.com, which criticizes regionalism as a “4th layer of government” and “an unconstitutional taxing authority,” among other things.
What’s next, then, for metro Atlanta and its problems if not regional solutions? Sub-regionalism? Additional cities? Or more of the go-it-alone approach that got us where we are in the first place?
At a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution community forum, sponsored by PNC Bank, we asked a panel of area leaders if true regionalism – or whatever it should be called — is possible within such a diverse archipelago of interests as metro Atlanta. Here’s some of what they said. (Comments have been edited for clarity and space.)
Eva Galambos, mayor of Sandy Springs
On regionalism: I think regionalism is an abstract term. To me, it makes sense for governments to work together when there are economies of scale that you can garner by working together. That may be two or three counties. It may be a watershed. It depends on what you’re talking about. It’s not always the same thing. Regionalism, to me, is working together if it makes a difference in getting more efficiency at lower cost.
Priority issues: The most important issue is water. There is no way that any jurisdiction in the Atlanta area can prosper if we don’t have a water supply. But in terms of transportation needs, the differences are so tremendous, especially in densities. And transportation infrastructure has to be related to density. If you don’t take density into account, you are going to end up with product that is not used and you can’t afford.
Suggested fix: Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton – that’s the region that needs to talk about transportation (collaboration). We have four different bus systems — that’s ridiculous. The buses ought to be under one central management. We need to think of the region in a different shape than we have in the past, and make it more relevant to what the real problem is, which is to meld MARTA and the other systems into one.
Cityhood trend: Since we (Sandy Springs) have come become a city, we’ve paved 110 miles of road. We never saw a paving truck under Fulton County. We put in a brand new park, 20 miles of sidewalks, street lamps up and down the roads, all under the same millage rate. That says to me that people are better off than they were before.
Positive regionalism: There’s a huge amount of collaboration that goes on that the public does not realize. We have inter-governmental relations with other jurisdictions on so many services. We make new relationships where we see they are needed. My need to collaborate with other local governments comes because I can see the benefit of lower costs if we do things together.
Tad Leithead, chairman of the 10-county Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC)
On regionalism: We don’t take up an issue and define it as regional unless the board of the ARC agrees collectively that it is a regional issue, and one around which collaboration is desirable. We have 39 board members at the ARC — 10 are the county commission chairs for the 10 counties; 13 are mayors. These are local elected officials who come together around issues where we agree collaboration creates a synergy.
Priority issues: At the ARC, we very specifically have identified what we believe are the top three regional issues. The top regional priority is water. If people think we are running out of water, we simply cannot be competitive in this national or international (business) environment. Second is aging services. We need a public infrastructure that provides transportation services, that provides facilities and programs for those who are aging who don’t have the wherewithal financially to access those types of services on a private basis. We have 750,000 people over the age of 65 in our region today. In 20 years that’s going to double to 1.5 million. The third issue is transportation. We have right now $58 billion to spend on transportation over the next 30 years. Our aspiration plan says that our needs total about $160 billion.
Suggested fix: We at the ARC developed several years ago a number of principles for a regional transit entity that would bring all of the various transit entities together under a single umbrella. But so far we have not been successful in passing a transit governance bill. We have to recognize that sprawl creates a burden and a cost on our infrastructure that is simply not affordable any more.
Need for regional approach: In this region, 67 percent of the people who get up in the morning and get in their cars to go to work, leave their county and wind up in some other county. So it is truly regional in nature. We are going to double in size over the next 30 years and we’ll have double the number of cars.
Steve Brown, chairman, Fayette County Commission
On regionalism: One thing that doesn’t work necessarily is mandated regionalism, and I think we’ve experienced a taste of that with the state legislature. That’s one thing that we need to be careful of, where you’re forcing the issue. The Transportation Investment Act (TIA) is one example of where you had to participate in that (T-SPLOST) referendum. You need to have a (regional) conversation. But a mandated policy where you have to fit into a particular mold, I don’t think is necessarily productive.
Priority issues: When you’re talking about transportation and water and a lot of things that we consider regional issues, the unfortunate thing is that most of it is controlled by the state legislature. They are the ones that pull the trigger. The decisions have to come from on high. The state tried to do the transportation solution and it was just a very awkward proposition. A lot of times the legislatures don’t have the knowledge to wrap themselves around the issue. A lot of times they’re very parochial. A lot of times it’s very, very slow.
Suggested fix: Flexibility is the key to planning in this regional context, allowing core urban counties to collaborate with one another. One thing I espouse is looking at sub-regions. It’s easy for me to get together with Coweta County, south Fulton county, Clayton County and Henry County and say, ‘We see you all the time, we drive on all your roads, what’s important to us and what do we need to solve?’ You have to come up with a mutual solution that’s going to benefit everyone.
Cityhood trend: I think the new municipalities have added some vitality to those areas. It’s given them a sense of ownership. Allowing people to decide their own fate and their own destiny, I think is a good thing. Sandy Springs is an entirely different place since it became a city.
Ellen Mayer, executive director, Civic League for Regional Atlanta
On regionalism: We often talk about regionalism in the context of fixing problems. Regionalism also presents opportunities to achieve shared goals, things we’re excited about. There are a lot of positive things that can be achieved through collaboration and that’s being done on a 10-county basis. It’s not just about the problems.
Priority issue: There is a disconnect. We elect our officials locally and then a part of their time is allocated to regional policymaking. It puts local elected officials in a very precarious position sometimes because they’re elected to represent the interests of their constituents. In campaign rhetoric, that turns into defending their constituents against everybody else’s constituents and that does not set the tone for collaboration. It’s very difficult for local elected officials to balance that. I think it’s something that can’t be solved by any one thing and it will take time, but we need to as elected officials and constituents (recognize) that there are times … when we need to collaborate and there are times we don’t.
Suggested fix: At the Civic League, we would like to see citizens and residents involved early and often in regional planning processes, and in all planning processes. Since you don’t have regional elected officials, you don’t relate to the people making regional policy decisions in the same way you do your county commissioner or your mayor. With the transportation referendum, I think that was a large part of the problem – the distrust, the feeling that there was a lack of transparency. The legislation was written in such a way that we didn’t have a year or two to involve citizens in these conversations about transportation, and we should have. Going forward, any attempts we make at collaboration, whether it’s a on a regional or sub-regional basis, should involve citizens at the very beginning. Citizens should be informing policymaking.
Cityhood trend: These new cities are born out of genuine discontent with county governments, and distrust of government, and that’s a problem.
T-SPLOST proponents kick off a new strategy, Transportation Leadership Coalition responds.
March, 28, 2013, Roswell, GA – Last night, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and PNC Bank hosted a community forum on Regionalism. According to the event marketing, the forum was a direct response to the failure of the transportation sales tax referendum last summer. The companies claim that T-SPLOST was actually a “failure of metro Atlanta’s fragmented communities to work together as a region.” Transportation Leadership Coalition (TLC) disagrees with this assumption and launches website RepealRegionalism.com in response.
“It isn’t a failure of metro Atlanta’s ‘fragmented communities to work together,’” said Jack Staver, Chairman of the Transportation Leadership Coalition. “The issue is dysfunctional county governments who are not willing to do the hard work to protect their counties and come up with mutually beneficial solutions with their neighboring counties. This is highly concerning,” Staver continues, “because regionalism is the fastest growing issue in Georgia that most citizens do not know exists.”
Regionalism was first introduced to Georgians in 2008 when the Georgia General Assembly passed HB 1216 and was signed into law by Governor Sonny Purdue. HB 1216 reorganized the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. It established 12 regions and created the governing structure for those who would serve on these regional councils creating regional commissions.
“The biggest concern with this approach is that the regions are ‘ruled’ by governing councils who were not elected to serve,” said Field Searcy, a key member of the TLC team. “We citizens have no recourse with regional councils like we have with an elected county commissioner or city council. If you think about it, appointed officials are not accountable to us, the people. They are accountable to whoever appointed them.” Searcy continues, “The United States Constitution ‘guarantee[s] to every State in this Union a Republican form of Government.’ That means elected officials, not appointed ones, represent us. Our own state Constitution provides for Home Rule. Home Rule protects our individual rights, prevents state government from interfering in city and county operations, and protects the principle of one person, one vote.”
RepealRegionalism.com aims to help educate the people of Georgia on the dangers of Regionalism and stop the growth of an unelected and unaccountable form of government.
About Transportation Leadership Coalition, LLC
Transportation Leadership Coalition, LLC, is a grassroots, all-volunteer organization that has come together in the belief that the State of Georgia can do a much better job of transportation planning than passing the largest tax increase in Georgia history and encourage the citizens of Georgia to become involved in their local governments to avoid the trappings of appointed government bureaus. We believe that if Georgians understand the facts about regionalism, they will overwhelmingly reject it.
By Maria Saporta and Dave Williams,
Contributing Writer and Staff Writer – Atlanta Business Chronicle
Political and business leaders throughout metro Atlanta worked together as never before to put a transportation sales tax on the July 31 ballot.
From choosing the projects to be funded by the penny tax to waging the campaign to approve it, they acted regionally, despite diverse backgrounds and interests.
But that regional mind-set didn’t resonate with voters, who overwhelmingly rejected the tax referendum, defeating it in all 10 metro counties.
“People think regionalism is good until they’re asked to pay for projects in somebody else’s neighborhood,” said Michael Leo Owens, a political science professor at Emory University.
That most voters didn’t act out of regional interest was hardly surprising. Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) votes to finance road improvements, schools or parks have appeared routinely on the ballots of individual counties, and they typically have won.
But the July 31 TSPLOST marked the first time voters in metro Atlanta — or statewide, for that matter — have been asked to approve a sales tax that would be collected and spent across a multi-county region. Not only did the referendum fail in Atlanta; It passed in only three of 12 regions across Georgia: the counties surrounding Augusta and Columbus and a huge swath of rural counties between Macon and Savannah.
“We don’t have a lot of practice in Georgia with these kind of votes,” said Otis White, president of Atlanta-based Civic Strategies Inc. and a longtime observer of the region’s economy. “Voters just weren’t willing to take that leap of faith.”
But White said the process that led to the referendum showed the Atlanta region could work together, even if the end result was failure.
First of all, there were business and civic organizations, even some that had competed against each other in the past, working cooperatively throughout the metro area.
Second, the Regional Atlanta Transportation Roundtable showed that a diverse group of elected leaders from throughout the region could agree on a project list — an unprecedented level of cooperation in metro Atlanta.
“That was the first test of us as a region,” said Michael Paris, president and CEO of the Council for Quality Growth, a Duluth-based nonprofit of business professionals focused on growth and development.
Paris said he understood why metro Atlanta voters proved reluctant to embrace the region-first attitude that marked the roundtable’s work.
“The concept of ‘When you fix something here, it really helps over there,’ is hard,” he said. “If you’re not out in the mix every day, you probably don’t have that same sense of how every piece helps every other piece.”
While some of the region’s political and business leaders appeared anxious to repackage the project list and take a second shot at a referendum, White called for a different approach.
“When you lose this badly, you don’t go back to the voters,” he said. “You have to find some other way.”
White suggested it probably will be up to the legislature to act.
Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said the process was flawed from the beginning because of the way the original bill was formulated and passed — giving local elected leaders say over what projects were picked.
“It put politics ahead of a regional plan,” she said. “At least that’s what people felt. It was a list of projects. It wasn’t a regional plan.”
Going forward, Franklin said it will be up to Gov. Nathan Deal to work on a regional transportation strategy.
“The problem has to be solved with the governor’s leadership,” Franklin said. “I’ve always been in favor of a financing mechanism that is state-based rather than region-based. This region is very important to the state’s economic vitality, and the governor should bring leadership to this issue.”
On the day after the vote, Deal said he would continue working to improve transportation mobility, but through existing resources.
“The voters of Georgia have spoken,” the governor said. “It’s certainly disappointing that we won’t have the resources to accomplish all the projects needed to get Georgians moving quicker, but it does force state officials, including myself, to focus all our attention on our most pressing needs.”
Deal singled out rebuilding the chronically gridlocked Georgia 400/Interstate 285 interchange for inclusion in what he promised would be a “need-to-do” transportation project list.
But following the lopsided defeat of a metro Atlanta project list heavy with expensive transit improvements, he shut the door on further expansion of rail service in the foreseeable future.