MARTA leader vows to keep DeKalb promises

Last year, MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker was named Man of the Year by the Atlanta chapter of the Women’s Transportation Seminar for his track record of hiring and promoting women. For months, the AJC asked to speak with him about MARTA’s handling of sexual harassment claims, but he declined and would not make any other officials available for interviews. EMILY HANEY / EMILY.HANEY@AJC.COM
Last year, MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker was named Man of the Year by the Atlanta chapter of the Women’s Transportation Seminar for his track record of hiring and promoting women. For months, the AJC asked to speak with him about MARTA’s handling of sexual harassment claims, but he declined and would not make any other officials available for interviews. EMILY HANEY / EMILY.HANEY@AJC.COM

MARTA general manager Jeffrey Parker conceded Tuesday that the transit agency hasn’t always lived up to its promises in DeKalb County.

But he vowed to live up to the commitments included in a long-debated amendment to the county's contract with MARTA contract — and to try and right past wrongs.

“I have been focusing on that over the past two years,” Parker said in a brief address to the DeKalb Board of Commissioners. “And you have my commitment that I will continue to focus on that.”

A short while later, the commission voted 6-1 to approve the so-called 15th amendment to the MARTA contract, which extends the 1% sales tax collected in four member jurisdictions for an additional 10 years.

The existing contract with Atlanta and Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties would have reduced the sales tax to half a penny in 2047; the full penny will now be collected through mid-2057.

DeKalb was the fourth and final jurisdiction to approve the extension, which MARTA officials say they need to continue funding operations and capital projects.

The negotiations were lengthy and sometimes contentious, especially as relates to DeKalb. Officials from the county have long voiced concerns about getting the short end of the stick — worries that were amplified when counties like Clayton and Gwinnett (whose voters ultimately shot down joining the system) negotiated agreements that were viewed as much more county-friendly.

In the end, the amendment includes MARTA committing to incorporate DeKalb's new transit master plan into its engineering report.

Other commitments include new transit centers at South DeKalb Mall and in Stonecrest; faster bus service in the Buford Highway and Candler Road corridors; and continued support of transit-oriented developments. The amendment also includes dates for the refurbishment of eight DeKalb County MARTA stations and says about 350 local bus stations will be upgraded by 2024.

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond praised Parker for the progress that has been since he took over at MARTA less than two years ago.

“Mr. Parker, in his short period of time, has made tremendous investments of his own time and his own credibility and begun to repair the breaches that have occurred in the past,” Thurmond said at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

“I’m convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that we are in a different place.”

Commissioner Larry Johnson, meanwhile, voted to approve the amendment but stressed that MARTA’s new commitments to DeKalb should be treated as “just a down payment.”

Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson cast the lone no vote.

She said she wanted more detailed breakdowns of MARTA’s future — and past — financial commitments in DeKalb and would have liked to see a concrete commitment to extending rail lines in the county.

“I stand with many of my constituents who feel that MARTA has failed DeKalb,” Cochran-Johnson said.