Fulton commissioners vote 4-2 to put APS chief on development board

(CASEY SYKES, CASEY.SYKES@AJC.COM)
Caption
(CASEY SYKES, CASEY.SYKES@AJC.COM)

Credit: Casey Sykes

Credit: Casey Sykes

Fulton County commissioners voted 4-2 Wednesday to place the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent on the board tasked with spurring development in the county.

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen will fill the remainder of an unexpired term, through May 31, 2019, on the Development Authority of Fulton County board.

County commissioners Bob Ellis and Liz Hausmann voted against Carstarphen's nomination, which was made by Commissioner Lee Morris.

To promote economic development and job growth, the development authority can use bonds and tax incentives, which have caused concern among Atlanta Public Schools officials.

The Atlanta school board's legislative priorities for the coming year include protecting the district's property tax base, in part by restricting tax abatements by the development authority "to those projects that would not be developed otherwise."

Carstarphen said her spot on the board is “a key step in moving us closer toward a better working partnership between APS and the DAFC.”

“I look forward to working with my fellow board members to help spur economic development opportunities for our city and allow APS to better balance the interest of economic development with the district’s educational mission and responsibility to taxpayers. This allows us to better balance our interest with our responsibilities to our 52,000 students, 6,000 employees and 158,000 taxpayers,” she said, in a written statement issued Wednesday.

Morris said he’s heard from some neighborhoods concerned about the development authority investing in projects that they think could be built without public investment. He thought it was appropriate to have an APS voice on the board since school taxes make up a large portion of property taxes that go into projects.

“Atlanta Public Schools has been making these investments in these development projects … with some incredibly large dollars,” he said.

Morris said Carstarphen assured him that she won’t be an automatic “no” vote against every project.

“It may be Pollyanna-ish of me, but my hope is that when she sits on that board there will be frank and productive discussions about these issues, and that they’ll find common ground,” he said.

Hausmann she’s concerned about Carstarphen sitting on the development board because the superintendent has intervened in opposition to a couple of the projects approved by the agency.

“It concerns me that someone who would be anti-development authority projects would be on (the) board,” Hausmann said. “I hope that she’ll be fair … and not just try to throw an obstacle to quality efforts to improve the economic conditions of the county.”

The development board vacancy was created by the resignation of Michael Bell, who is the chief financial officer for the DeKalb County School District.

Morris said he doesn’t plan to nominate Carstarphen for another term after her partial term expires. He said when that time comes, he’ll be looking for someone who will raise questions about the use of public money and school taxes for economic development.