Sometime before the end of the year, Dr. Beverly Scott, the general manager and CEO of MARTA, will step down after leading the country's ninth-largest transit agency for what's been a heady five years.
It won't be easy to fill Scott's shoes. The Old Fourth Ward resident is considered a transit rock star, who's served in top positions or led bus and rail systems in such cities as Washington, D.C., Sacramento, New York, and Houston, among others, and national transit organizations. She's whipsmart, charismatic, and respected by the General Assembly.
A committee tasked with finding Scott's replacement, according to Maria Saporta, is thought to have narrowed the selection down to four candidates, one of whom is a top MARTA executive: Dwight Ferrell, MARTA’s current deputy general manager and chief operating officer; Keith Parker, president and CEO of VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio; Paul Jablonski, CEO of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System; and Stephen Bland, CEO of the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh. (State Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, who chairs the Gold Dome committee that oversees MARTA, confirmed to Rhonda Cook that Ferrell and Parker are at least two of the candidates.)
Two problems are helping prevent the search committee from making a pick, says Saporta:
Part of the problem appears to be that none of the finalists have ever run a transit system that is similar in scale to metro Atlanta’s MARTA system, the ninth largest transit system in the United States (for now).
External observers have questioned the wisdom of even doing a search for a new MARTA general manager during this period of great uncertainty for the transit system’s future.
Those uncertainties: MARTA's future if Gold Dome leaders overhaul transit governance in metro Atlanta and the always cash-strapped transit system's financial health.
The AJC's Cook says the MARTA board's selection could improve its relationship with state lawmakers, a unpredictable bunch which has made something of a sport out of bullying MARTA, rather than treating it as an economic engine and one of several ways to manage the metro region's transportation woes.
“This discussion about MARTA’s fiscal situation, from this point forward, will be established by its choice of a general manager,” Jacobs said. “There are legislators who view the MARTA Board’s choice of a general manager as a very serious matter. MARTA has a very serious fiscal situation that it needs to address very quickly. But if it doesn’t, the General Assembly may have to step in to require MARTA to do what needs to be done.”
An optimist would read this last line and say, "Wow, maybe lawmakers will finally start helping fund the system that relieves congestion on state roads and shuttles conventioneers from the airport to downtown, where they fill the state-owned Georgia World Congress Center, making that facility more successful. Or they'll look at helping the system rather than punishing it." Oh, you silly optimist, you're in for a surprise!
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