MARTA board member to resign amid ethics probe

Credit: AJC file photo

Credit: AJC file photo

A MARTA board member will resign following an investigation that concluded he engaged in unprofessional behavior and overstepped his authority at the transit agency.

The investigation report also concluded that board member Rod Mullice created a hostile work environment for Chief of Staff Melissa Mullinax and several other women at MARTA. And it found Mullice had created the “appearance of impropriety” by proposing MARTA curry favor with Atlanta political leaders through various means.

Mullice disputed the findings and said the complaint — filed by Mullinax — was a response to his efforts to hold MARTA accountable for failing to make progress on its Atlanta expansion.

“I felt it very important to bring a level of accountability to restore public trust in the agency,” he said. “Especially since there has not been any dirt turned on any new transit lines since 2016,” when Atlanta voters approved the transit expansion.

Mullinax declined to comment.

MARTA has convened an ethics board to hear the allegations — a move that could have resulted in Mullice’s censure or removal from the board. But Mullice, who represents Atlanta on the board, recently submitted his resignation to Mayor Andre Dickens, effective June 1. It’s unclear how his resignation will affect the status of the complaint.

In a prepared statement, MARTA Board Chairman Thomas Worthy said the agency “stands behind the report and looks forward to working with the next city of Atlanta MARTA Board appointee.” Worthy said the board is focused on delivering nine priority Atlanta expansion projects by 2028.

Mullice is a real estate developer who has been involved in properties near MARTA stations. Then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appointed him to the MARTA board in December 2021. At board meetings, Mullice has sometimes asked sharp questions about MARTA decisions such as opting for rapid buses instead of light rail for a new transit line along Campbellton Road.

Mullinax filed a complaint against Mullice last April. She cited several “harassing and antagonistic” conversations with Mullice, who at times expressed concerns about her job performance.

She said Mullice also suggested MARTA hire certain consultants to support the agency’s Campbellton Road plans and asked her to cancel a request for proposals for a transit-oriented development at Bankhead station to better coordinate with Microsoft, which has announced plans for a campus nearby.

In her complaint, Mullinax noted that she reports to General Manager Collie Greenwood, not to the board.

“Although Mr. Mullice is not my employer, his repeated actions make clear that he does not recognize the distinction between the governance role of a board member and the operational work of staff,” she wrote.

MARTA asked the Jackson-Lewis law firm — which it has used for a variety of employment and labor issues — to investigate. In a December report, attorney Emily Borna concluded that Mullice had “engaged in unwelcome, unprofessional conduct toward Ms. Mullinax.”

The report documented a series of contentious conversations. Mullinax reported “feeling so hassled by Mr. Mullice” that she twice ended phone calls by hanging up on him, the report found. He “abruptly ended” another phone call.

Borna also concluded Mullice had created a hostile work environment for several other female employees who do not regularly interact with MARTA board members.

The report said Borna could not substantiate concerns that Mullice had a conflict of interest because of his business ventures near MARTA’s transit-oriented developments. But it said his conduct created “an appearance of impropriety.”

Among other things, Borna said Mullice proposed MARTA appoint an interim CEO following Jeffrey Parker’s suicide last year “to possibly curry favor with the Atlanta mayor based on college affiliation (rather than experience and expertise).” And it said he asked MARTA staff to “shortcut the regulated process to use MARTA property as a favor for a city council member.”

Mullice said the council member was asking for the use of a MARTA parking lot for a community festival. He said Greenwood provided him with a contact in MARTA’s real estate department to pursue the matter.

“I believe this complaint is a byproduct of my desire to have MARTA be best in class when it comes to transparency,” Mullice said.

He said he hopes an upcoming audit of MARTA’s Atlanta expansion program will restore public trust in the agency.

The MARTA board recently convened an ethics board to review the allegations against Mullice. The board has not yet met.

In a letter to Dickens dated March 17, Mullice said he would resign effective June 1. He did not cite a reason.

MARTA spokeswoman Stephany Fisher said the ethics board will determine what happens with the complaint in light of Mullice’s resignation.