Some local officials nervous before Wednesday ARC vote

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Today is the day that the Atlanta Regional Commission is scheduled to vote on proposed changes in its bylaws that have raised concerns among numerous local government leaders, including some in Fayette County.

The regular ARC board meeting is at 1 p.m. at the commission’s office in downtown Atlanta.

The primary issue is a possible consolidation of power within the ARC board chairman’s position, allowing him or her unprecedented authority in the selection of committee members and other key matters.

Another sticking point is the fact that community improvement district (CID) leaders or employees are eligible to be ARC board members, and the current chairman is one such person. Many of those who have been vocal on the issue believe that only elected officials should be eligible for seats on the board so they are accountable to voters at some point.

Fayette County Board of Commissioners Chairman Steve Brown is automatically on the board by virtue of his elected position, and he has been one of the most vocal in opposition to the proposed bylaw changes. Tyrone Mayor Eric Dial is also on the board, and he has expressed concerns about the matter as well.

Brown has repeatedly spoken out about the danger of forming “a system that will pick the regional winners and losers,” a phrase he has used several times in his public comments. He believes the ARC need to make structural changes that will promote more transparency and accountability.

As far as transparency is concerned, he took issue with the ARC’s public comment policy, which the board modified slightly last month but still allows the chairman to arbitrarily decide whether members of the public can speak at board meetings. Brown and Dial voted against that measure.

Brown also has a problem with the CID issue, saying that ARC board members who are also affiliated directly with CIDs have the opportunity to make decisions that would impact the profitability of those organizations.

He proposed a number of changes of his own last month in a letter to the ARC leadership. He said then that opposition to some of the ARC proposals has grown lately, including the Metropolitan Atlanta Mayors Association.

The latest salvo came Monday in the form of a letter from an organization known as Repeal Regionalism. It was addressed to all state and local elected officials in the region as well as the media.

Citing a lack of media coverage on the issue and the fact that the two latest editions of the ARC’s own newsletter made no mention of it, the letter referred to the potential effect the bylaw changes could have related to accountability, local control and “home rule” as provided for in the state’s constitution.

The letter also included a summary of a critique released in July by the Transportation Leadership Coalition, a grassroots organization that campaigned successfully to defeat the 2012 T-SPLOST referendum in several regions. Those points included CID member involvement on the ARC board and the reduced quorum rule for the Transportation and Air Quality Committee to 40 percent.

“Because the Atlanta Regional Commission has taxing authority on a per capita basis for each person living within the Atlanta metropolitan area, this taxation entitles the citizens to representation,” the letter read. “In addition, the ARC has influence on expenditure of federal, state and local dollars which also come from the taxpayers.  When councils of government are appointed they are not accountable to the people. This is ‘taxation and legislation without representation.’

“Trust in government is at an all-time low.  These changes only centralize more power into the chairman.  Let us make this perfectly clear, if enacted, the new Governance Committee would allow a small group of appointed people to make decisions about federal, state and local dollars instead of duly elected representatives who are accountable to the people. We do not need a situation where a handpicked group around the board chairman will have the ability to pick winners and losers in the Atlanta metro area.  This will only lead us away from more open, transparent and accountable governance.”