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MARTA legislative panel butts heads with GM (and each other)


jill chambersMARTA’s general manager and its chief legislative overseer locked horns today over the transit agency’s plan to spend up to $400,000 on outside lobbyists.

Then, state Rep. Jill Chambers took on a member of her MARTA Oversight Committee — Sen. Doug Stoner — when he objected to her “cross-examination” of MARTA officials over the agency’s spending on consultants.

The standoff escalated when Chambers, the committee chairman, cut off Stoner’s microphone in mid-sentence as he questioned her tone.

Stoner responded by talking louder.

“I’m very disappointed in us as a committee,” Stoner said. “I don’t think we’re getting to any real information. We’re playing games.”

Chambers had spent about 20 minutes grilling MARTA chairman Michael Walls somewhat incredulously about spending in FY 2009 for a communications consultant ($40,766), executive head-hunters ($42,214), exercise equipment ($46,774), employee cellphones ($547,546), outside attorneys and computer training for MARTA board members ($15,990).

“It shows an attitude that it doesn’t matter how much we spend, there’s going to be money to pay for it,” she said.

MARTA has solicited proposals to hire an outside agency to push the agency’s legislative agenda in 2010. MARTA was unable to persuade the General Assembly this year to give it access to capital reserves to balance its operating budget.

General Manager Beverly Scott told the MARTA Oversight Committee that the transit agency expects an annual budget deficit of about $80 million over the next several years.

“I can save you $400,000 right now,” Chambers told GM Beverly Scott. “As MARTOC chairman, I will not do business … or allow myself to be lobbied by anyone hired by this authority and paid with tax money.”

Chambers said she’d heard that MARTA wanted to hire lobbyists who could reach House Rules Chairman Earl Ehrhart and Ways and Means chairman Larry O’Neal. Earlier, she said about a half-dozen lobbyists hoping to secure the MARTA job were in attendance at today’s MARTOC meeting.

Scott denied that any specific legislators would be targeted. She said MARTA, which employed two lobbyists in the 2009 legislative session, was “outclassed [and] outmaneuvered” by other interests with larger lobbying corps.

“It’s not strong-arm or anything like that,” Scott said, but more about “political information and education.”

Stoner jumped to MARTA’s defense, noting that the proposed lobbying contract would be for three years, not just one, and would cover contact with the federal government as well as the state.

Several state agencies employ more lobbyists than MARTA does, Stoner said. And, he noted, “We have a public monopoly named Georgia Power which hired 70 people to lobby in the last session to lobby us with ratepayer money.”

Scott said MARTA ideally should have four or five lobbyists to educate the General Assembly about the agency: “There are many legislators, they just don’t know MARTA, they don’t have any clue.”





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4 Responses to “MARTA legislative panel butts heads with GM (and each other)”

  1. Eleanor says:

    Chambers once again shows her arrogance and her belief that she is above and beyond courtesy to anyone. Will never forget her poor mouthing a few months ago but yet drives a brand new cadillac. She has got to go.

  2. Claude says:

    Ms. Chambers has never had the best interest of MARTA at heart. I am not sure just what her agenda is…..

  3. Kenneth Williams says:

    The GM is always complaining about MARTA not having any money but she can still find the money to pay the lobbyist. And you can make a bet she isn’t going to cut her pay, but she will lay off several hundred people and make it hard on the public by cutting bus and rail service. Maybe whoever controls MARTA needs to give her the pink slip!

  4. Former Legal Secretary Now Retired says:

    Mr. Williams, I agree with your comments regarding the MARTA GM and also the layoffs and cutting of rail and bus service. I too find these very disturbing but I also maintain and have maintained for a long time that Jill Chambers could do more for the system and the people in need of the system and who have no other alternative transportation. And her vindictiveness towards these people is very apparent when she shut off Doug Stoner’s microphone when he was speaking. Whether she agreed with what he was saying or not, she showed a huge lack of professionalism and courtesy and certainly gave the appearance of not caring about the little guy.