Mayors decry process for deciding North Fulton’s transit future

By Patrick Fox - October 22, 2018

Two North Fulton mayors say they’ve been muted from having a say on who will represent their area on the region’s new transit governing board.

Alpharetta and Johns Creek mayors labeled a recent caucus of area mayors “a sham” after the group met to elect a representative who will help appoint a district member on The ATL, the region’s new transit governing body.

“I’m just trying to raise awareness of the fact that 250,000 [North Fulton] people in an area that has paid MARTA taxes for 40 years are basically being left out of the process,” Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin said.

Created by the Georgia Legislature this year, The ATL will serve as an umbrella agency to guide funding, planning and expansion of transit in 13 counties in and around Atlanta. It works in conjunction with existing transit systems. Member counties must “opt in” to any specific project or funding mechanism, and no local sales taxes can be raised without approval from residents via a referendum.

The ATL’s governing board will consist of 15 members, five already appointed by state officials. The other 10 will be named by a panel of elected officials within each of the 10 districts that make up the metro Atlanta transit region.

Each of these panels consists of one mayor elected by mayors of the cities within each district. (Atlanta’s mayor has an extra seat on all panels for districts that fall within her city.)

In addition to the one mayoral seat, the nominating panel includes county commission chairs and state senators and representatives who represent any portion of that ATL district. 

Most district nominating panels have more than two dozen state and local elected officials. So, in most cases, the mayoral representative accounts for about 1/24th of the panel vote.

Still, that vote is important to the cities of North Fulton, the two mayors argue.

The eastern portion of Alpharetta and all of Johns Creek are the only North Fulton cities lying in District 2. The district also encompasses western Gwinnett and eastern Forsyth counties. At the District 2 mayors’ caucus Aug. 18, Alpharetta and Johns Creek mayors said they were outnumbered by six mayors from Gwinnett County.

Alpharetta’s Gilvin and Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker say the election of Buford Mayor Phillip Beard to represent cities in District 2 puts the people of North Fulton County at a disadvantage. 

They also point out that North Fulton cities lying in District 1 just west of Ga. 400 are also outnumbered. The district includes five North Fulton cities but six cities from Cherokee County. 

Paying population ignored, mayor says

Having his city divided by Ga. 400 into two districts adds to the problem, Gilvin said.

“Alpharetta’s in two districts that are primarily dominated by Gwinnett County and Cherokee County,” he said. “Our state legislators are outnumbered in the two districts in which we are divided.”

Neither Cherokee nor Gwinnett have ever been part of the region’s dominant transit system, MARTA.

Gilvin said that Alpharetta has already been targeted for three transit stations, yet the city has no direct input with The ATL commission.

“As much as we need to have Gwinnett and Cherokee counties involved in a regional transit program, the fact is, they haven’t paid a dime into it yet,” Gilvin said. “They’re dominating the districts that are going to determine our future.”

Johns Creek’s Bodker was no less blunt. He said he nominated Gilvin as the District 2 mayors’ representative, and his motion didn’t receive a second.

“I have never in my public life seen a case in a nomination process where a nomination didn’t receive a second as a matter of courtesy,” Bodker said. “Jim and I didn’t even vote. I felt like it was a sham and we kind of left saying ‘we’re done.’”

Bodker said it appears North Fulton had been gerrymandered out of the process. He said he doesn’t know whether the legislation was deliberately set up to exclude North Fulton, but the process has allowed it to happen.

The fact remains, he said, that Gwinnett County has a mayoral representative from Buford serving on the nomination panel of District 2, and Suwanee Mayor Jimmy Burnette serving for District 6. North Fulton has none.

A little less drama to the west

The District 1 meeting included mayoral representatives from five North Fulton cities: Sandy Springs, Mountain Park, Roswell, Alpharetta and Milton. Cherokee County had six.

Roswell Mayor Lori Henry was out of town, and her office said she was not available to comment on the District 1 mayoral caucus.

However, Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood said he didn’t sense any fury at the meeting. Lockwood described the meeting as “congenial, with a lot less drama.”

District 1 mayors elected Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques as its delegate to the panel choosing a representative to The ATL governing board.

State Sen. Brandon Beach, a leading figure in drafting the legislation creating The ATL and a resident of Alpharetta, said concerns raised by the two North Fulton mayors are unfounded.

Regional transit will have plenty of North Fulton voices, he said.

Freda Hardage from Johns Creek will be incoming chairwoman of MARTA and will have a major say in regional transit issues, he said. In addition, he said, there are three board members of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA), Dick Anderson, Ann Hanlon and Al Nash, all with North Fulton ties.

The area’s link to representation doesn’t stop there, Beach said, adding that Mark Toro, whose North American Properties launched Avalon in Alpharetta, has already been named to The ATL board. So has Teddy Russell, whose Russell Landscaping service covers North Fulton, he said.

“The thought of us not having any representation is just completely wrong,” Beach said.