Fulton development authority appoints new leader; treasurer to resign

Fulton County’s controversial development agency voted Friday to hire a new interim leader, and its longest-serving board member announced he will resign to focus on his Atlanta City Council race.

The Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC) voted 8-0 to approve a contract with Sarah-Elizabeth Langford, a well-known real estate lawyer and member of the powerful Georgia Board of Regents, as interim executive director. Langford’s contract is for a term of up to one year, at $14,500 per month or $174,000 for a full 12 months.

Among her job responsibilities is daily supervision of DAFC staff, courting economic development prospects and to “transition and rebuild DAFC operations amid the current media coverage.”

Langford was named the sole finalist for the interim executive director position late last month. DAFC Chairman Michel “Marty” Turpeau IV has served in that role for several months as the authority sought new executive leadership. He will remain as chairman.

DAFC has long been criticized as a rubberstamp that approves lucrative tax incentives for well-off parts of Fulton. But the authority has undergone a transformation in recent months, spurred in part by reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that found a culture of loose financial management under prior leadership.

Under former chairman Bob Shaw, board members for years awarded themselves per diems or stipends that elected county commissioners later determined might not have been legal.

Shaw resigned from the board following reporting by the AJC, and in recent months four new members have joined.

The Fulton County Board of Commissioners recently approved a $150 per diem rate, bringing DAFC into compliance with state law. That per diem rate went into effect on Wednesday.

Last month, an AJC analysis found DAFC gave preliminary or final approval to more than $328 million in tax breaks since the beginning of 2018, with the overwhelming majority going to projects in hot markets like Buckhead, Midtown and the length of the Beltline loop.

On Aug. 24, the board turned down a nearly $4.5 million subsidy for luxury apartments near the Beltline, only the second time in recent memory that the board rejected an incentive.

Langford is a Howard University-educated lawyer with experience working in affordable housing. She is also the daughter of the late minister, civil rights leader and state lawmaker Arthur Langford Jr. Her mother is a prominent bond lawyer, Susan Pease Langford.

Sarah-Elizabeth Langford is also the ex-wife of former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Reed was a critic of tax breaks granted by DAFC during his first two terms as mayor, a post he is seeking again this year.

Turpeau has said the authority will resume a search for a permanent leader. Langford is a potential candidate.

Also on Friday, DAFC Treasurer Sam Bacote announced he would step down from the board, pending the appointment of a successor. He has served on the DAFC board for about 12 years, becoming treasurer in November.

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Bacote is running for the open District 5 seat on Atlanta City Council. He has served on an expired term since the end of May. He said he stayed on to help guide the authority as it attempted to reform itself and assist new members during a difficult transition amid intense media and public scrutiny.

Bacote’s successor will be named by Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts. A spokesman for Pitts said the chairman hopes to have a successor before the next DAFC board meeting, which is Sept. 28.

OUR REPORTING

The AJC’s previous reporting revealed a culture of loose financial oversight at the Development Authority of Fulton County. Board members gave themselves per diems that elected county commissioners now believe may not have been legal.

Using public tax filings and documents obtained through the state’s Open Records Act, the AJC has shown that one member, Bob Shaw, earned hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the authority had previously disclosed for a staff position that few members knew about.

The AJC’s reporting led Shaw to step down, pledges of transparency by the authority and scrutiny from some state and local lawmakers.

ExploreRead our past reporting about the Development Authority of Fulton County