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Insiders Baseball. Or why Clayton County is an experiment in political suicide

July 3, 2014
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In case you live under a rock, Clayton County Commissioners made a lackluster attempt at putting MARTA on the ballot and MARTA threw it back in their face and said, “Try again”. Again is Saturday. And Sunday is the deadline to making a deal work. Kyle over at the AJC has a great piece up on the game of chicken, but there’s a little more to that story. MARTA isn’t digging it’s heels in and saying my way or the highway; Clayton is playing a political game.

Three weeks ago the MARTA board was firm in it’s requirement for Clayton to come to the table with a full penny. Transit systems cost a lot more to operate now than they did forty years ago when the MARTA act was passed, and for Clayton to have a robust transit system that fully met the needs of its residents, there needs to be adequate funding. 

Then Norfolk Southern sent out their memo disagreeing with the MARTA estimates for commuter rail, throwing a monkey wrench in to the gears of a plan that was actually coming together for the first time in the four years since Clayton lost its transit service. Norfolk Southern is still willing to come to the table to negotiate; it just might not cost what we were expecting. Could commuter rail happen with the penny? Is it feasible? Should residents go to the ballot to fund a dream?

MARTA stepped up, put on her big girl panties, and looked hard at accepting a half penny should Clayton decide that’s what it could agree to in light of the questions around commuter rail. No one questions the desire for rail in Clayton, but no one wants to waste resident’s money, and certainly not MARTA. And the MARTA board decided it could accept a half penny, assuming that there was the possibility of moving forward with a full penny once the commuter rail plan and been fully flushed out.

So what happened?

A bad contract.

 The contract that the Clayton County Commissioners sent to the MARTA board for approval wasn’t one that MARTA could, in good faith approve. It wasn’t one that ensured that the tax revenues would go to be distributed to MARTA in a timely matter, or at all. In effect, the contract gave the Commission all of the control, didn’t provide for the full revenue stream to go to the transit service, and didn’t make an agreement to provide MARTA, leaving MARTA waiting with it’s hand out and hoping to get reimbursed for services provided.

It was a contract that could have left MARTA and the taxpayers in Fulton, Dekalb, and Atlanta holding the bill for Clayton’s services should the Commissioners decide in the future that they didn’t want to pay MARTA for services rendered and could mean Clayton would again lose service.

Now we’re left to ask why the Commissioners would submit a flawed contract? One that they knew couldn’t be authorized. Was their vote Tuesday night simply to postulate and pretend that they’re willing to work for the residents of Clayton? 

And the likelihood of the Commissioners showing up to the Saturday meeting where they could vote to fix these problems is questionable as we go into the holiday weekend. Sonna Singleton, Gail Hambrick, and Michael Edmondson have all indicated that they will not attend the meeting Saturday morning.

Clayton residents should be able to decide what’s best for them. All they’re asking for is the chance to vote. So Commissioners, will you give the people a chance to be heard?

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