A “complete failure” of internal controls allowed a top MARTA aide to charge several thousand dollars of personal expenses to the transit agency, auditors reported Thursday. The aide, the executive assistant to general manager Beverly Scott, was fired in August. Auditors blamed, in part, “an unacceptable deference to positions of authority” for the long delay in detecting the problem.
Rep. Jill Chambers will be giving up her job as MARTA’s top watchdog after losing in Tuesday’s election by about 275 votes. As chair of the MARTA Oversight Committee, Chambers had questioned the transit agency’s spending on lobbyists, pay raises, consultants, fitness equipment for employees, intricate bond deals and much more. And that was all before lunchtime.
Key pieces of hardware were not working properly at a rail station where a child fell 12 to 15 feet down an elevator shaft last month, MARTA announced today.
No vote has been taken, but MARTA appears close to signing off on state Sen. Doug Stoner‘s job with a key contractor, the engineering firm of PBS&J. Several MARTA officials say there’s no conflict, because PBS&J got the contract before it hired Stoner, who serves on the Legislature’s MARTA Oversight Committee.
MARTA’s risky venture into complicated leaseback transactions with insurance giant AIG and others has turned a $15 million profit, at least so far, state auditors said today. Dozens of U.S. transit agencies took part in the leaseback deals, which offered a profit for MARTA and a tax shelter for the investors. The deals seemed safe until AIG lost its AAA credit rating a year ago, leaving MARTA on the line to pay termination fees that could have totaled hundreds of millions of dollars.
New lobbyists soon will help MARTA look for the state’s help in closing a projected $130 million budget deficit. The transit agency’s chief legislative overseer refuses to meet with them, but MARTA officials seem OK with that. They’re after bigger game. The lobbyists’ pitch to MARTA, led by Ellen Williams Reynolds, offers a plan to connect with key House and Senate Republicans. And the lobbying team includes a former executive of the Georgia GOP and the husband of state Human Resources Commissioner B.J. Reynolds.
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.
MARTA hired a lobbyist Tuesday, moments after a union official accused state Rep. Jill Chambers of trying to force a state takeover of the agency. MARTA’s board fears a projected $80 million deficit will result in disastrous service cuts without state relief. “If we don’t get something done, a year from now we’re not going to be providing anything you could reasonably call transit service,” Chairman Michael Walls said. UPDATE: New lobbyist Bernard Reynolds will have to earn his keep, judging from Chambers’ latest e-mail today.
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.
MARTA board members who vote to hire a $160,000-a-year lobbying firm could lose their seats come 2010. So says state Rep. Jill Chambers, the transit agency’s chief nemesis in the Georgia Legislature. As chairman of the MARTA Oversight Committee, she fired off an e-mail over the weekend threatening to eliminate the seat of any board member who supports the contract when the board meets Tuesday. Board chairman Michael Walls terms Chambers’ saber-rattling “outrageous.”
MARTA’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 butted heads with a member of her MARTA Oversight Committee. Chambers grilled MARTA officials this morning about several million dollars in spending that she regarded as unnecessary. When Sen. Doug Stoner objected to her tone, Chambers cut off his microphone. “I’m very disappointed in us as a committee,” Stoner said. “We’re playing games.”
Sales tax collections that support Atlanta’s rapid-transit system will not return to pre-recession levels until 2017, according to a new economic forecast. Georgia State University’s Rajeev Dhawan says sales tax revenue will continue to fall through 2011 and will take six more years to climb back to 2008 levels.