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Possible MARTA conflict could become $45 million headache
A potential conflict of interest involving a MARTA vendor and a state legislator could turn out to be a $45 million headache. Or, if it’s not worked out, state Sen. Doug Stoner could be out of a job.
The MARTA board punted Tuesday on a request to consider a waiver of its conflict policy for the engineering firm PBS&J. The board will consider the matter again in November. In the meantime, MARTA’s lawyers will sort out the implications of its conflict regulations, and its ethics committee will discuss whether the agency’s 37-year-old code of ethics needs some tweaks.
The company hired Stoner in February, shortly after he joined the Legislature’s MARTA Oversight Committee. MARTA paid PBS&J about $52,000 for surveying work for the transit agency last year. The firm is also one of three in a joint venture that serves as its general engineering consultant.
The joint venture, Metropolitan Atlanta Transit Consultants, has a three-year contract with MARTA that paid it nearly $18 million last year. Overall, MATC could collect about $45 million under the deal.
PBS&J asked for the waiver recently after the potential conflict was brought to its attention. The firm said it did not believe there was an conflict because Stoner’s work involves wastewater and energy facilities, not transit.
MARTA officials were clearly concerned, in a committee discussion Tuesday, of disrupting work on several continuing projects if PBS&J were not granted the waiver.
Board member Ed Wall, one of several who said they were disinclined to vote for the waiver, asked what the engineering firm would do in that case.
“Then we’d have to re-evaluate what kind of relationship we’re going to have” with Stoner, PBS&J vice president Douglas Hooker said.
Board member Michael Tyler underscored the implications of that statement: “This employee not being in the employ of PBS&J. That’s another viable alternative.”
The MARTA board considered a similar issue in August when Edelman Public Relations, which employs member Barbara Babbit Kaufman’s daughter, was up for a contract worth up to $100,000. Edelman withdrew from consideration before the issue was resolved.
MARTA has waived its conflict-of-interest provision once, when the law firm of Holland & Knight was hired to lobby in Washington. State Sen. Kasim Reed, a candidate for mayor of Atlanta, is a partner in the firm’s Atlanta office.
What would happen if Reed were to be elected mayor, someone asked at a MARTA committee meeting Tuesday. No one had an answer.