To: Mr. Keith Parker, CEO
VIA Metropolitan Transit
San Antonio, Texas
Dear Mr. Parker:
Congratulations on being named MARTA’s next CEO. We’re sure you’ve done homework into what awaits you here. Even so, we wanted to respectfully offer our estimation of items that should top your To-Do list.
First, to succeed here, you will need to excel at management, evangelical leadership, political diplomacy and visionary innovation. .
MARTA, its employees and the region it serves need tough love. As importantly, we need a vision of what public transportation can be in the 21st century. We’ve had trouble with that vision thing in recent years.
Your experience in the state governed by Rick Perry should serve you well here politically. If you haven’t already, please quickly introduce yourself to members of MARTOC, your legislative oversight committee.
It may strike you as odd that MARTOC has purview over MARTA, given that the Georgia General Assembly doesn’t fund the agency you will soon run. Get used to it.
Any hope for change to this current reality is largely up to you and the MARTA board. The faster you all lean into that task, the better.
In its actions leading up to your hiring, the MARTA board did itself no favors by allegedly undertaking actions involving unofficial “votes” that led MARTOC’s chairman, Rep. Mike Jacobs, to file a complaint with Georgia’s Attorney General’s office. We could have done without that distraction.
It further cooled an already frosty relationship between MARTA and MARTOC. The resulting brouhaha should convince any still-skeptical MARTA board members to err on the far side of transparency going forward.
That said, the board that hired you has committed itself to making MARTA a more well-run entity. Hold them to that promise during the difficult days that lie ahead.
A powerful audit the board commissioned points out where to begin transforming the bureaucracy you’re about to join.
Use your honeymoon period here to push quickly for measurable, significant changes — the kind that can cut millions from annual expenses. The audit indicates that’s not as tall an order as it may seem. MARTA has cut costs in recent years, but much more is necessary.
Doing the hard work of bringing MARTA in line with reasonable financial norms should go far toward healing the ragged rift between the agency and its capital overseers. That’s what they’ve asked for. If you deliver, that puts you in position to do some asking of your own.
Which brings us back to a vision. Once you rationalize MARTA’s perils-of-Pauline finances, then you will put this metro area in the position of being able to discuss what comes next for a great community that’s been hobbled by gridlock for too long. Youwill also open the door to boldly ask the state to become a financial partner in creating a better transportation network for metro Atlanta. Doing so will have a positive ripple effect across the entire state.
Use your newcomer’s advantage to lobby for what we can be as a region, and a state. Challenge us. Speak the truth about what our competitors are doing as the world inexorably marches into the 21st century.
In many other places both red and blue that means smartly using transit to connect people with jobs and leisure activities. We need someone who will tell us that the future probably won’t much resemble the past, or the present. Nor should it.
MARTA needs a respected leader who can sit at the big table and work with political leaders, other agency heads, grass-roots activists and everyday residents to figure out how we can begin improving transportation here. It’s perhaps our thorniest challenge. Any feasible solution will involve a lot of better roads, know that.
Yet, transit will also have a significant role to fill, even the most conservative of MARTA skeptics would agree. That’s something you can build upon.
And we know how to build in Atlanta. Here’s hoping that your arrival will help us get back to work.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.