Is MARTA Ready for A Black General Manager?
Atlanta, GA, September 19, 2000 - The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) board met on Monday and selected an executive search firm that will recruit MARTA's next general manager. This past December, MARTA's general manager Rick Simonetta resigned to become CEO of a Pennsylvania video technology firm. After passing over two well qualified African American MARTA vice presidents (Nat Ford, Executive Vice President for Operations & Development and Gloria Gaines, Vice President for Planning & Analysis, the MARTA board selected Jack Stephens as its interim general manager. Stephens was vice president of customer development. In its 29-year history, MARTA has had five general managers. All of them have been white and male.
The Clayton County MARTA board representative headed the search committee. The committee report was called into question after it was brought out that a black-owned executive search firm had obtained the most votes in the committee, but after a recount it was later announced as having the second highest votes. Although split, the full MARTA board voted for a non-minority firm to run the search for a new general manager. "We don't trust MARTA's search committee process. Why is it that a Clayton County board member chaired the search committee? Why wasn't a Fulton or DeKalb MARTA board member, whose residents have been paying the one-cent MARTA tax for the past 25 years, selected to chair the committee, " stated Sherrill Marcus, an organizer with the Metropolitan Atlanta Transportation Equity Coalition (MATEC), a coalition of seventeen grassroots community organizations.
MATEC members have opposed the MARTA fare hike that will take effect this January 1, 2001. They also emphasized that MARTA is a big business with an annual operating budget of over $300 million. Since 1979, MARTA has collected over $90.1 billion from the one-cent sales tax. The MARTA tax is collected only in the Fulton and DeKalb Counties.
"We strongly feel that it's time that we had a black general manager at MARTA," said DeKalb NAACP director John Evans. Evans is a former MARTA board member. African Americans currently make up 75 percent of MARTA's riders. African Americans also comprise 78 percent of MARTA's 5,325 employees. "There are able African American transit managers around the country who could run MARTA," stated Robert D. Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center. Bullard stressed the fact the current Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation is African American. The former administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, Gordon Linton, is also African American. African Americans head four of the country's 30 largest transit systems. African Americans hold the top transit positions at the Boston-MBTA (Robert H. Prince, Jr.), Baltimore MTA (Ronald L. Freeland), Detroit DOT (Sandra Bomar Parker), and Houston Metro (Shirley A. DeLibero).
Why has MARTA never had a black general manager? There appears to be a "glass ceiling" at MARTA for African Americans. There is also strong evidence that all of the racial hurdles for African Americans at MARTA-from the selection of the current interim general manger to the selection of the executive search firm for the permanent general manager- have not been overcome. MARTA prides itself as an Equal Opportunity Employer. This principle needs to apply for all positions at MARTA, including the general manager position.
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