An election to fill a vacant spot on metro Atlanta’s new regional transit board devolved into a partisan dispute Monday.
State legislators, county commission chairmen and mayors from parts of Fulton, Gwinnett and Forsyth counties met Monday in Duluth to fill a post on the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority. The post was vacated when board member Marsha Anderson Bomar, who resigned recently to take a post at MARTA.
But a procedural dispute derailed the election, prompting most Republicans present to walk out in protest.
Several Republican public officials did not attend the meeting, but they planned to vote by phone. However, Democrats objected, and a motion to allow those absent to vote by phone failed.
State Rep. Josh McLaurin, a Sandy Springs Democrat, said written rules for the caucus vote implied that only people who are present can vote.
“The concern among people who voted not to allow the phone-in votes was about process fairness,” McLaurin told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This should not have been a partisan issue.”
Most Republicans saw it differently. State Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, was one of those who did not attend the meeting. She said she was called to the hospital for a family emergency at the last minute, but she phoned in to cast her vote. She said phone voting was allowed at the original district election last year.
When Republicans walked out in protest, the group did not have a quorum, and the election was postponed. Another election date has not been scheduled.
Among the few Republicans who didn’t walk out was state Sen. Brandon Beach, a GOP candidate for Georgia’s 6th District. Beach, who did not immediately comment, supported the vote to allow in-person only voting.
One reason for the GOP pushback is a matter of scheduling. Since there’s no set meeting time, staff members sent an online poll to try to get maximum turnout. Those who said they couldn’t make the date figured they could call in.
“When you have a meeting and people say they can’t make it, to have a maximum voice you need to let them vote by phone,” said state Rep. Chuck Martin, an Alpharetta Republican who was there.
In a statement issued to the AJC, the authority said its staff “will continue to work with the elected officials representing Transit District 2 to facilitate another opportunity for leaders to meet and have an election to fill the current vacancy for the District as required by law. We are always ready and available to assist in helping to make the election process as seamless as possible.”
The dust up is one indication of how much is at stake as the new authority – dubbed the “ATL Board” – seeks to create a seamless regional transit system from the alphabet soup of transit agencies that provide service across the region.
Ten of the board’s 16 members are elected by district. Those voting include state and local elected officials from that district.
At least six candidates are seeking to fill the vacant spot on the ATL Board: Peachtree Corners City Council Eric Christ, transportation engineer John Karnowski, former MARTA General Manger Keith Parker, former Sugar Hill Mayor Gary Pirkle, Sugar Hill City Manager Paul Radford and Sierra Club board member Art Sheldon.