Few answers on Atlanta transportation head’s surprise resignation

ATLDOT Commissioner Josh Rowan joined the "pothole posse" ahead of Mayor Dickens' 100th day in office on Monday, April 11, 2022. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

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ATLDOT Commissioner Josh Rowan joined the "pothole posse" ahead of Mayor Dickens' 100th day in office on Monday, April 11, 2022. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Josh Rowan’s resignation letter says it is ‘ideal time’ to move on

The upcoming resignation of Atlanta’s Department of Transportation commissioner will leave the city’s newest department void of two of its top leaders after a deputy commissioner was fired less than two weeks ago.

Commissioner Josh Rowan’s resignation, which takes effect July 1, was not at the request of the mayor, who told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday that the news was unexpected.

Mayor Andre Dickens declined to provide a reason for the departure — deferring to Rowan to disclose that information — though the mayor said he understood the decision.

But Rowan, the first leader of ATLDOT, has yet to publicly comment on what led to his resignation. He did not address it during a presentation to the City Council’s transportation committee Wednesday, and walked away from a reporter without answering questions afterward. Rowan has not responded to questions sent to him via text and email this week.

He also didn’t respond to a follow-up email requesting comment Wednesday. A spokesman for the department said, “Unfortunately, ATLDOT will not be able to provide additional comments or provide assistance related to this matter.”

In Rowan’s resignation letter, obtained by the AJC through an Open Records Act request, he wrote that after “taking time to reflect upon my numerous accomplishments as commissioner and envisioning the bright future of ATLDOT, it is clear the timing is ideal for me to pursue the next chapter in my career.”

He lauded ATLDOT’s employees, saying they are “truly the invisible heroes of this city.”

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ATLDOT Commissioner Josh Rowan (left) talks to Mayor Andre Dickens about snow preparations at the ATLDOT North Avenue Facility in Atlanta on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

ATLDOT Commissioner Josh Rowan (left) talks to Mayor Andre Dickens about snow preparations at the ATLDOT North Avenue Facility in Atlanta on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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ATLDOT Commissioner Josh Rowan (left) talks to Mayor Andre Dickens about snow preparations at the ATLDOT North Avenue Facility in Atlanta on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The turnover at the top of the department comes as ATLDOT is already under the spotlight.

The city said last week that Cotena Alexander, a deputy transportation commissioner, was fired after initially being named as a participant in a bribery scheme during the federal trial of former political operative and city employee Mitzi Bickers in March.

The revelation sparked an internal probe. And the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week investigated questions surrounding $113,000 in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans obtained through side businesses registered to Alexander’s home.

Alexander worked for the city for 22 years. Rowan promoted her to deputy commission, overseeing the office of transportation infrastructure management and earning a yearly salary of $170,000, according to the city.

ExploreCity of Atlanta fires two employees over alleged ties to bribery scheme

Dickens has said previously that federal prosecutors never informed city officials of Alexander’s alleged link to the bribery scheme. Prosecutors said during the trial that Alexander, who has not been charged, accepted bribes to steer snow removal work to a contractor, then used the money to pay off $30,000 in credit card debt.

During an editorial board meeting at the AJC last month, Dickens hinted that Alexander was being investigated by outside agencies, which he referred to as “higher authorities than the city.”

Rowan’s resignation comes with bad timing for another reason.

Atlanta residents are beginning to vote on three ballot questions that, if approved, would put $750 million toward transportation and infrastructure improvements, through a bond and the continuation of the T-SPLOST sales tax. The vote is being closely watched by the mayor’s office and other city officials amid skepticism in some circles over whether the city would be able to properly execute the extensive project list.

Rowan joined the city in March 2019 to lead Renew Atlanta, the city’s infrastructure improvement program. Former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appointed him in late 2019 to lead the transportation department, which had been officially created a few months earlier.

Dickens proposed the idea for ATLDOT as a councilman, and the two were seen as aligned on various transportation-related issues.

The mayor said he will launch a national search for Rowan’s replacement, as the transportation department becomes the sixth city department in need of a permanent leader. Dickens said shortly after he took office that he was launching searches for Cabinet members overseeing the procurement, parks, planning and human resources departments. And police Chief Rodney Bryant announced his retirement last month.

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