MARTA CEO to get three-year contract extension

MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker has led the agency for nearly three years. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker has led the agency for nearly three years. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com

MARTA’s chief executive will get a three-year contract extension under a measure the agency’s board of directors approved Thursday.

CEO Jeffrey Parker joined the regional transit agency in March 2018, and his contract expires in 2023. On Thursday, the MARTA board approved a resolution authorizing an extension through June 2026, though the details — including any raise — must still be negotiated.

Board members say Parker has earned an extension. The resolution cites several accomplishments, including a new collective bargaining agreement and the negotiation of a new contract with the four jurisdictions that the transit agency serves. It says Parker “is providing excellent leadership of the authority during his tenure.”

One critic believes Parker shouldn’t get a contract extension while most of its bus service remains suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ed Williams, a DeKalb County resident who has filed a lawsuit to force the agency to restore bus service, said the MARTA board is focused “not on the public but on the CEO.”

Parker replaced longtime MARTA CEO Keith Parker, who many credited with improving the financial and political standing of a troubled agency. Those improvements helped pave the way for the General Assembly to approve 2018 legislation allowing transit expansion across metro Atlanta.

Jeffrey Parker inherited that goodwill, but he has faced a series of challenges during his tenure.

Last year, Atlanta hosted the Super Bowl, and MARTA played a key role in transporting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the game and related events. The agency won praise for its performance.

Parker also helped negotiate a contract with the Amalgamated Transit Union, which granted employees 3% annual raises, as well as longevity pay and other pay hikes for bus and rail operators.

Parker led MARTA through a significant federal audit. He helped forge a new agreement with Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties and Atlanta that extends a sales tax that supports its operations and spells out future expansion plans. And he has overseen expansion plans for Atlanta and Clayton County.

Not everything has gone as planned. In January 2019, Parker sought to capitalize on growing political support for transit by calling for a $100 billion “moonshot” investment in regional transit.

But such ambitions have bumped up against political realities. Last week Gwinnett County voters rejected transit expansion plans for the second time in less than two years, in part because of lingering suspicions of MARTA in the suburbs. Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties also appear to be in no hurry to expand transit.

What’s more, the coronavirus pandemic has darkened MARTA’s long-term budget outlook. And the agency has suspended most of its bus service and beefed up its remaining service as it tries to encourage social distancing among passengers. The move has prompted a persistent outcry from residents who relied on the suspended routes.

It’s unclear whether Parker will get a raise under the contract extension. His current salary is $366,575.

Parker also is eligible for a bonus of up to 10% of his base salary. But he has told the board that “any bonus or base salary pay raise was inappropriate this year,” MARTA spokesperson Stephany Fisher said.