Jacobs: MARTA tries to dodge probe

A key state legislator broadened his attack on MARTA’s board Wednesday, saying a director is thwarting a state investigation into his complaints about violations of the state open meetings law.

State Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Atlanta, said he has evidence from other MARTA board members that director Barbara Babbit Kaufman falsified an affidavit he requested to show compliance with the Open Meetings Act during the search for a new General Manager.

“The problem is I’m being furnished documents that are false — they are being made up as they go along,” said Jacobs, who chairs the legislative committee that oversees MARTA. “I’m pretty red-faced angry about it. I’m dealing with a board that wants to create false documents to satisfy an oversight committee.”

Kaufman said she did not intentionally violate any law.

Jacobs wrote state Attorney General Sam Olens Wednesday to amend his initial complaint about possible MARTA board violations of open meetings, which focused on an email in which Kaufman asked board members to send her their “vote” on a new GM. Jacobs had also said the board’s search committee, chaired by Kaufman, failed to meet required procedures for meeting in private.

The Open Meetings Act requires a vote for a board to go into non-public session. It also requires a notarized affidavit by the committee chairperson stating the legitimate reason for the closure, such as to discuss candidates for a high-profile public job.

Jacobs’ latest letter to Olens essentially says Kaufman created that paperwork only after he complained.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Kaufman said she followed the advice of board attorney. “I was at those meetings, and I believe everything was done correctly,” she said.

She declined to be specific when asked whether she signed the affidavits following the meetings or this week after receiving Jacobs’ request that she produce them.

“I signed them when the attorney made them available to me,” she said. “I think you have a certain amount of time.”

The affidavits produced for Jacobs are dated Sept. 27 and cover eight meetings from March to September.

“In my view, it is a violation of the Open Meetings Act to fail to file the affidavit until after several meetings have passed,” said Dow Lohnes attorney Tom Clyde, an expert on the Open Records Act who also represents the AJC.

Attempts to reach board attorney Charles Pursley for comment were unsuccessful. Earlier this week, Pursley said the board on Thursday would choose between two finalists: Keith Parker, who heads transit operations in San Antonio, Texas, and Steve Bland, transit chief in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Jacobs supported MARTA Chief Operating Officer Dwight Ferrell for the job. He said Wednesday his complaints about the process are not aimed at derailing the GM selection. But he said the violations could open the process to a legal challenge.

The Attorney General’s office said Tuesday it would look in to Jacobs’ complaint that the email poll had violated the Open Meetings Act.

Though the issues are procedural, Jacobs contends MARTA’s response shows a willingness to compromise an Attorney General investigation and to undermine legislators’ trust.

“I’m being told by board members who were there that there was no vote and there is an affidavit from Barbara Kaufman saying a vote occurred,” Jacobs said. “That needs to be addressed directly and in a very serious way. That gets to the integrity of the board members involved and their disregard of a legitimate inquiry.”

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