Cobb lawmaker’s public, private transit interests overlap
By JIM WALLS
MARTA officials will meet Tuesday to talk about waiving the transit agency’s conflict-of-interest policy for a vendor that hired a state legislator earlier this year.
But for the lawmaker, state Sen. Doug Stoner of Smyrna, his job with the vendor may be just one of the potential conflicts.
Stoner took a job in February as senior business development manager with PBS&J, one of the nation’s largest engineering, architectural and construction management firms. The company did about $52,000 of surveying and related work for MARTA last year.
MARTA’s ethics code bars the agency from contracting with a business in which a legislator or other public employee has an interest. Stoner works in PBS&J’s wastewater unit, not transit, so MARTA officials believe it’s reasonable to waive the policy.
“I view this as a lot less about Doug Stoner than it is about MARTA’s continuing relationship with PBS&J,” MARTA board chairman Michael Walls said.
The waiver would not address Stoner’s other private interests in public transit:
- His ownership in LD Squared LLC, the holding company for Exeloo East, which markets New Zealand-made, self-cleaning automated toilets for use in public venues in the United States. MARTA bought one several years ago — for about $130,000, Stoner said — for the H.E. Holmes rail station on the west line.
- His association with Modern Urban Streetcar Technologies Inc., a firm created in 2008. Atlanta Magazine reported last year that Stoner was the partner of CEO Louis Herrera, but Stoner said Sunday “that’s just a misstatement or something.” He said he had advised Herrera last year on his plans to market European Ultra Light Rail technology in the States.
“Louis … just asked me to validate the technology because obviously I have a background in the subject area,” Stoner said. The streetcar company, which Stoner said is dormant, does not list him as an officer.
Herrera also serves as the buffer that allows public agencies to buy Exeloo toilets without posing a conflict for him, Stoner says. The legislator wholesales the loos to another Herrera company, Roswell-based Public Facilities and Services Inc., which retails them to local governments.
Besides MARTA, Public Facilities and Services sold two toilets to Cobb County Transit, after Stoner stepped down as chairman of the Cobb Transit Board, and, at a price of $1.5 million, five to the City of Atlanta. MARTA has paid the company up to $48,000 a year to service the H.E. Holmes unit.
Stoner makes money every time Herrera sells a toilet, but he won’t say how much. Even though some of the cash winds up in his pocket, Stoner believes there is no conflict because government agencies don’t deal directly with his firm.
“I’ve followed the rules. I make sure I don’t get involved with any of this stuff,” Stoner said.
MARTA lawyers looked at his involvement in the 2003 procurement of an Exoloo toilet and decided the transaction was fine, Stoner said.
“They said, ‘No, this isn’t dealing with you directly and we’re OK with that.’ ”
Besides, he notes that all the Exoloo sales in metro Atlanta have been the result of competitive bidding — “I can’t have any influence over that” — and he has reported his involvement in Exeloo on financial disclosure statements.
“I’m in the toilet business,” he said. “I haven’t hidden the fact.”
Stoner, as it happens, sits on the Legislature’s MARTA Oversight Committee (MARTOC) and chairs the Senate Intermodal Rail and Transit Subcommittee.
MARTA is negotiating to manage transit systems in Atlanta’s ambitious redevelopment plans for the BeltLine, a 22-mile ring of historic rail segments circling the city’s urban center. Streetcars or light rail are envisioned to connect communities along the BeltLine, but MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott told lawmakers last month that MARTA doesn’t have the money to expand its rail network.
To rustle up the cash, MARTA may turn to the Legislature and the committees that Stoner serves on. Stoner introduced legislation this year that would have given MARTA what it desperately wants — permission to spend more than the mandated 50 percent of its sales tax revenue on operating costs.