Author: George Chidi

Former staff writer for the AJC. Councilman for the mighty City of Pine Lake, population 680 not counting geese. Democrat.

Arthur Blank Taps DeKalb for $12M, Because He Can

The public’s natural reaction to government plans for sports stadium “investments” is inchoate incandescent rage. Taxpayers could have been convinced, once upon a time, before Russia’s winter Olympics, before the FIFA scandals, before John Oliver’s weekly rants went viral. Not anymore.

Stadiums as bad government policy are cliché sports bar conversation fodder today, especially as we contemplate traffic on Braves game days in 2017. The idea should be dead on contact.

And yet, here we are. Again.

DeKalb County’s commission will vote Tuesday to turn over 40 acres of public land for the use of a private sports team for 30 years, tax free, spending (they think) $5 million to prepare the property and paying a billionaire $7 million for the privilege.

Arthur Blank wants to build Atlanta United’s $30 million soccer training complex behind the DeKalb County jail, near MARTA’s Kensington Station. It would be the perfect place to stage a re-enactment of “Mean Machine” or “Victory.” Which commissioners should play which prisoners’ roles is something I’ll leave to your imagination.   Read more

Burrell Ellis, DeKalb CEO, Guilty of Perjury and Attempted Extortion

So much for Mr. Eleven-To-One.

Burrell Ellis, CEO of DeKalb County, has been found guilty of three counts of perjury and a count of attempted extortion in a retrial of corruption charges that have left the county in a state of agonizing limbo for almost two years.

The conviction allows for Ellis to be formally removed from office, and not merely suspended. That means the race for others to finish out his turn begins in earnest today.

Lee May, interim CEO, is almost certainly going to run. Michael Thurmond, who left his role as superintendent of DeKalb’s school system, is also a likely candidate.

I’m not quite certain about the path forward. Governor Nathan Deal appointed May to hold the CEO job while Ellis was facing trial, under relatively new state provisions. But the county charter says that when a CEO is removed from office, and not merely suspended, the presiding officer of the commission takes the job until the role is filled in a special election. And, today, Larry Johnson is the presiding officer of the commission.

May is reading to seven-year-olds at Gresham Park Recreation Center this morning, if you happen to be in the market to chase him down for comment.

May resigned his commission seat last month, leading to a 10-person race to replace him in southeast DeKalb. The runoff will be between Mereda Johnson — wife of Congressman Hank Johnson — and George Turner, head of the District 5 council. Johnson won a plurality of the ballot with about 28 percent of the vote, but her defeated opponents appear to be throwing their endorsements to Turner.

Let the summer of political weird begin.

The Georgia Building Authority Needs A Map And A Clue

Apparently, the Georgia Building Authority, which governs the grounds of the capitol, has decided that the governor’s discomfort with new technology is more important than the economy of this state.

Folks have been flying drones around the capitol and the Governor’s mansion, the AJC reported today. Capitol police lack the statutory authority to restrict drone usage on state property. So the building authority passed a resolution today banning the use of drones at the governor’s mansion.

Fine.

And the capitol.

Well, OK.

And anything within five miles of the capitol heliport.

Wait. What?

Gentlemen. That’s more or less the entire city of Atlanta. It’s part of Decatur. It covers Piedmont Park and Centennial Olympic Park. It includes the entire urban campus of Georgia Tech, where an entire school of aerospace engineering students is counting on a job at firms that are almost certainly building drones. The area around Marietta — which is a fertile territory for aerospace startups — is already under a drone ban of sorts because of the airport.

I am enraged. Georgia has a local cluster of aerospace startup firms like Adaptive Flight and Aerotonomy, thanks to the Georgia Tech Research Institute and the influence of Delta Airlines and Lockheed Martin. UPS is flirting with drone development as part of its long-term vision. These are good jobs. And they will go to places with leaders who understand the ramifications of new aeronautic technology, like San Jose, Austin and Chicago.

I question the authority of … well, the Authority … to issue a sweeping rule like this at all, never mind doing so as an unelected body without meaningful public comment. After this rule, I say: enforce it, if you can. Go out to the park, or to Georgia Tech, and shut down amateur drone operators because there’s a helipad two miles away. Do it. I want to see you get sued for it, so that the limits of this rule making power can be properly tested in court.

Killer Mike For District 55, Because Why Not

Killer Mike
Michael Render, better known as Atlanta rapper and activist Killer Mike.

(Updated.) I generally refrain from political news in the 48 hours before an election. However, it’s probably worth mentioning that Atlanta rapper Killer Mike decided this afternoon that he wants to be a write in on the District 55 state house special election ballot tomorrow to replace Tyrone Brooks.

Michael Render  — which would be a great name for a rapper all by itself — is a legitimate social activist and Atlanta native who has been making the talk show rounds regularly as a voice for conscious hip hop’s connection to public policy and the defense of its value as art and commentary. His Bill Maher appearances are particularly fun to watch.

Mike and I met briefly during the Occupy Atlanta movement a couple of years ago.

So, I get Mike’s sentiment, but I wouldn’t take his write in candidacy today as anything other than a protest against political idiocy. He hasn’t registered his write in candidacy with the Secretary of State’s office, so write in votes won’t be counted. More to the point, according to the Secretary of State’s website, Mike is registered in District 53, Sheila Jones’ district.

Not that being registered in the wrong district has stopped anyone in this race yet.

As of 6:30 p.m. today, a Superior Court judge in Fulton County had yet to rule on the on-again, off-again ballot legitimacy of Tyrone Brooks Jr., who was a registered voter in District 57 all of two months ago and voted there in November. The emergency hearing was set to begin this morning at 8:30 and apparently has yet to conclude with a decision.

Update:

Read more

Sense Prevails: DeKalb CEO Suspends P-Cards

At the behest of the investigator looking into county corruption, Interim CEO Lee May has taken the screamingly obvious step of suspending the use of purchasing cards for all county employees, effective immediately. No word on whether he’s going to throw a giant bonfire in the middle of Decatur Square with them.

From the AJC today:

Their ongoing investigation has found examples of improper expenses charged to the county, including purchases of unauthorized items and splitting purchases to circumvent the county’s $1,000 per transaction limit, May said.

“Progress is being made every day but major challenges remain in our commitment to root out any abuse, corruption or malfeasance. This is the primary reason why we hired special investigators,” May said.

The charge card ban applies to county commissioners, their staffs and most of the nearly 300 DeKalb employees who have been issued P-cards. The cards may still be used in some circumstances, such as for emergencies, motor vehicle repairs and court expenses.

P-Cards are government-issued credit cards, which can be incredibly convenient to use for procuring material for spot needs or for travelling, because spending can be tracked electronically. They are also, as those who have been watching corruption problems at all levels of state and local government will attest, cherry-flavored crack for people looking to game the system. Administrators high and low have been caught and jailed for misusing P-Cards for personal use, despite very clear rules and a very clear legal regime. Several commissioners remain under scrutiny for their own use of P-Cards. A scandal around P-Card use ultimately started the chain of investigation that led to the conviction of former DeKalb commissioner Elaine Boyer this year, and may lead to additional convictions of county employees.

We’ll see if the end of P-Card use jams up county functions or shifts fraud to bogus purchase orders. But I think it’s a welcome change.

 

Five Years Later, Atlanta Police Still Digging Out of Eagle Raid Debacle

Tyson Paul WXIA 11 arrestIf police officers tell you that you can’t record them with your cell phone, they’re lying to you.

Note the conspicuous lack of maybe unless except weasel words in that sentence.

In a place you have the legal right to be, you have the right to record. Period. A cop that orders you to stop recording is breaking the law, violating the constitution and — in Atlanta — defying a court order.

Still, defying court orders is kind of how APD rolls. Last week, Atlanta and its police department were held in contempt … again … for failing to adhere to the terms of a legal settlement stemming from a 2009 SWAT-style raid on The Atlanta Eagle, a gay leather bar on Ponce, just down the street from Mary Mac’s Tea Room.

The now-disbanded Red Dog unit went in ostensibly looking for drugs and weapons and people having sex on the bar. After making the patrons roll around in broken bar glass on the floor for an hour, the worst accusation they could make was that some guys had shorts on that were too short.

No warrant. No probable cause. No charges on patrons. (Some employees were laughably charged with the shorts thing. All were acquitted after police perjured themselves in testimony.)

That led to a million-dollar settlement in federal court, and an agreement in the settlement to teach cops to treat the defending the constitution like it’s their actual job and not something to get around.

The court ordered police to cease stop-and-frisk without probable cause, to train officers on current Fourth Amendment law regarding detentions, arrests, frisks, and searches, including the legal standards set forth in the 210 Settlement Order, and to change its SOP to reflect the law. It required police to wear a conspicuously visible nametag, and to make sure any Atlanta police officer who is in uniform or displaying police authority identifies himself or herself by name and badge number upon request at some point before the end of an encounter with a civilian.

The court specifically, explicitly, unambiguously told police to stop snatching up bystander cell phone cameras.

The police department basically ignored the settlement. It changed its SOP in 2011 … and then changed it back in 2013. APD was held in contempt of court for the second time last week for failing to comply with the 2010 order.

As a practical matter, if you’re recording an interaction with a police officer in Atlanta, and that officer decides that he or she doesn’t want to be recorded, you’re going to be treated like a criminal suspect yourself. You’ll be asked for identification. Failing to identify yourself to a police officer is a misdemeanor crime in Georgia … but initiating the inquiry without probable cause is a civil rights violation. It forces someone taking bystander video to either submit to an illegal police inquiry, or create the conditions for an officer to initiate an arrest on the failure to ID charge.

After identifying yourself, a cop may then decide to run your name for warrants. Again, there’s no probable cause, so this is a civil rights violation. But the time taken to do so then becomes (specious) justification for the argument that recording police is an act of interference or obstruction — the cops have to take time to violate your rights that would otherwise be used productively. These are the conditions for the classic contempt-of-cop arrest.

The settlement was meant to prevent these abuses. Plainly, it hasn’t done so. Atlanta Police still feel comfortable arresting professional journalists covering events on the street, never mind Joe Citizen recording cops rousting rowdies on the East Atlanta strip.

The next time you see police arresting someone in public, record it. Be polite, use common sense, and don’t be a jerk. But record. And if a cop gets in your face, ask for their name and a badge number. Their name, not their supervisors’. And then post it online.

It’s 2015. Being recorded is part of the job for a cop. We need to know which officers are giving the public grief for it.

Lee May Resigns From Commission, Vaughn Irons Announces Candidacy, Public Reaches For The Tylenol

vaughn ironsI think we can now guess at some of the reasons Lee May might have been holding off from resigning the District 5 commission seat. Exhibit A: the spectacle of Vaughn Irons’ candidacy for the job.

By outside accounts, the two aren’t speaking any more. Irons, a politically-connected property developer and former Freddie Mac executive, has been close to the commission for years. But Irons and May appear to have fallen out.

May went out of his way to issue a press release yesterday disavowing Irons. “I look forward to talking with some of the announced candidates about their priorities and vision for DeKalb County,” May wrote. “A decision on whether to endorse a candidate will be made after these discussions.  However, let me be clear:  I have not and will not endorse the candidacy of Mr. Vaughn Irons to be the next District 5 Commissioner.”

That’s about as plain as it gets. Anyone but you.   Read more

Markel Hutchins, The Leader No One Asked For

Another leaderless movement finds itself fending off a self-appointed leader today.

Markel Hutchins jumped into the cockpit of the #blacklivesmatter plane, appropriating the image of Martin Luther King to launch MovementForward Inc. this month. It’s Hutchins’ latest attempt to hijack breaking news for his own vainglorious ends, by appointing himself a leader of the movement.

I could talk about the feckless, morally-illegitimate clown that is Markel Hutchins, but at this point it’s old news. Anyone in town who has been working as an actual activist knows his song and dance at this point, from trying to take over the SCLC and welding the doors to their building shut during the dispute, to inserting himself into the Kathryn Johnston shooting case and then suing the Johnston estate when they wouldn’t pay him a “love offering” afterward. He is, again, trying to take credit for the efforts of others, bestowing a title upon himself so that he can ask for baksheesh from a position of authority. He is an aardvark rooting for ants. The lack of self-awareness is stunning.

The media lets him get away with it because he brings his own microphones.

That said, I think it’s fascinating how indifferent the #blacklivesmatter movement has been to religious leadership. Activists aren’t rejecting clergy, exactly, but they are rejecting a characterization of the movement as a religious one.

For the first time in a long time, a black social movement is emerging outside of the model of King’s prayerful protest. For a certain class of leadership in the black community, that has to be threatening. The axiom that black politics must inevitably flow through the black church to be legitimate is under attack. Hutchins’ desire to stake out a leadership role — one that I have to note is not being questioned in public by other clergy — might be viewed as pushback.

Also worth noting: many if not most of the people organizing the protests are women. I suspect they will not quietly endure an attempt by some man to take credit for their work.

It’s not my place to tell the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement how to police their ranks. All I can say is that I’ve been there. Markel Hutchins isn’t going to lead anything except the occasional 5:30 p.m. newscast. The question is whether actual leaders — folks that the movement actually listen to — will step up in public to claim that title in order to keep potential activists and the broader public from being disgusted by Hutchins’ pathological rent-seeking behavior.

Lee May Pushes Back Against Fraud Allegations

 

Lee MayLee May, DeKalb’s interim CEO, is still covered in the county’s crap.

WSB and the AJC interviewed a county contractor who claims that a county official pulled $4,000 out of an unusual reimbursement for a broken sewer line that damaged May’s home a few years ago. The contractor, Doug Cotter, said plainly that former commission chief of staff Morris Williams — who resigned (err … retired) with no notice last month — was looking to help out a cash-strapped commissioner. The FBI are now investigating May.

“Morris [Williams] contacted me and said, ‘Doug, Lee’s having some financial trouble, is there any way you can help him out?'” Cotter told Jodie Fleisher at WSB.

In 2010, a sewage line backed up into Lee May’s house. Filth poured from his toilet into the then-county commissioner’s home in Lithonia. May was in serious financial trouble at the time, with creditors after him to make good on loans for a failed movie theater business. The sewer break was insult upon injury. His home was collateral, and it lay fouled.

A repair firm came and cleaned it up, going unpaid for months for the trouble. May filed bankruptcy in April of 2011. The firm, Alpharetta-based Water Removal Services, invoiced the county that June. And the county paid the $6,495.72 bill almost immediately. Most people have to file a claim themselves and wait a month, and many aren’t reimbursed for the whole amount. But May appears to have received special treatment, without his knowledge, he said.

Were this the entirety of the scandal, I would argue that the real problem is how broken and inefficient government can be for most people, and less about how it works properly when the people with firing authority are watching.

Alas.   Read more

Bob Lundsten Indicted In DeKalb: A Fall From Grace

A DeKalb County grand jury indicted Bob Lundsten last month on nine charges of theft and making false statements, accusing him of using his government-issued purchasing card for buying things for personal use, and then lying about it. Lundsten was arrested Thursday and is out on a $15,000 bond.

Lundsten, former chief of staff to disgraced DeKalb Commissioner Elaine Boyer and a long-time player in Dunwoody politics, is not the sort of man who shies from a fight, whether fighting the extension of the DeKalb municipal airport’s runway extension almost 30 years ago or calling an ethics board member a lying son of a bitch at a hearing last month.

So I can’t say right now if he’s going to fight the criminal charges or cut a deal. Lundsten did not return a request for comment and has gone dark on social media. What I can say is that the charges puncture and punctuate a long career in the public eye. They’re probably a period, and perhaps an exclamation point.

“If you are someone entrusted with public funds and you misspend them, and steal, it carries a penalty of up to 15 years per count,” the district attorney, Robert James, told 11 Alive.

James did him a favor when he charged him.   Read more

A Bribe Knocks The Dominoes Over

I’m dumping my notes today, simply to keep from being swept up by events. Things are moving fast in DeKalb County. Beware – I plan to speculate today.


 

No one knows Ismail. Only, everyone knows Ismail, if you get me.

I stopped in at El Matador in February. It’s one of the restaurants owned by Sirdah Enterprises. I asked for the owner. The staff knew the guy is named Ismail, but that’s all they knew. They pronounced the name “Ishmael.” They have no way to contact him, a server told me. Try the number on the posters on the club next door, she said.

“Leave your name and your number, and if he wants to talk to you, he’ll call,” the nameless young man on the other end of the line said with surprising candor. I asked for Ismail’s last name. “Man, I don’t know.” I hung up. Other numbers led to phone mail that was full or phone mail that wasn’t set up or wrong numbers.

A couple of days later, I stopped in at Lulu Billiares, a dimly-lit pool joint and restaurant next door. The bouncer approached me, all smiles, in exactly the way bouncers do when they’re trying to figure out if they have to tank someone’s aggro; hands forward and open, weight on the balls of the feet. I asked for Ismail. He stopped for a moment, trying to assess whether I might be a cop or a creditor, before answering too casually that he doesn’t know anyone named Ishmael.

He asked the guy unloading liquor if he knew. Ishmael would be back in the office tomorrow around 10 a.m., the guy replied in Spanish. Someone didn’t get the memo.

Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Atlanta indicted Ismail Sirdah on a count of bribery. Sirdah pleaded guilty last week.

Coincidentally, the name on the marquee of the club changed later in the day I visited to “La Vaca Billiards.”

The club, right next to the offices of Lulu Productions, kitty corner to the El Noa Noa club at the end of dingy little Pittsburg Plaza in Tucker, has suddenly become the most politically important strip mall in DeKalb County.   Read more

DeKalb Commission (Mostly) Thinks It Should Tell People Stealing From The Government Is Wrong

Elaine BoyerThe sentencing of disgraced former DeKalb County commissioner Elaine Boyer this Friday will close a chapter in the book of corruption, though no one I know thinks we’re even halfway through.

Boyer is facing one to two years in prison for stealing at least $58,000 in fraudulent consulting charges paid to a confederate, along with running more than $15,000 in personal purchases on her county Visa card.

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners would like to remind the court and the public that Boyer’s crime was against the public. They’re planning to offer a victim impact statement that notes how her crime damaged the public’s trust in government and the reputation of the county.

The resolution — which is otherwise a timorous cough in the direction of actual outrage — also calls for the governing authority to “take all measures within its power to assist federal and local law enforcement officials in ensuring that DeKalb County and employees who commit crimes related to their public duties are fully investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

This last paragraph has particular relevance today, after interim CEO Lee May’s appointment of a special investigator to look at county corruption issues. Former Georgia attorney general Mike Bowers will have unfettered access to talk to county employees, examine records and hear testimony … but “the probe will not include the county commission over which May has no control.”

Notably, one commissioner chose to register objections to the victim impact resolution in a memo to the board. Sharon Barnes-Sutton described the resolution as inserting itself into law enforcement and that it “illustrates mean-sprited tactics intended to embarrass and demonstrates a lack of decency from this governing body, if adopted.”

Barnes-Sutton also has requested records of correspondence between law enforcement and commissioners Kathie Gannon, Jeff Rader, Lee May and District Attorney Robert James, along with “any attorneys hired to investigate her,” the AJC reported.

I have a call out to Barnes-Sutton. I’ll note her additional comments when my call is returned.

The resolution, and her memo, are below the fold.  Read more

On Empty Commission Seats and Empty Condos

horrorThese buildings fill me with existential dread. They are Lovecraftian horror in tasteful glass and stone, vile and perilous Things worthy of a John Carpenter soundtrack, an attack on the essential core of my reason.

This is Panola Slope.

The development on Covington Highway is tasteful and well-maintained, modeled on the live-work-play concepts put to such extraordinary use in places like Suwanee Town Center and Atlantic Station. The first floor contains 12,000 feet of retail space, with 23 luxury townhomes built on the second and third stories. They have brick facing exteriors with parking garages tucked carefully in the back.

And they’ve been completely empty since at least 2008.

Mixed-use development! That’s what economic development folks reach for when exploring ways to cut down on traffic congestion. Live! Work! Play! That’s how to accommodate new attitudes about civic relationships. New Urbanist communities! Mixed use development! Raise the commercial tax base in unincorporated areas, by Jove! Build it and they will come!

I have advocated the merits of mixed-use development for at least 10 years. I am not alone. Better, richer men than I have sunk millions of dollars into live-work-play developments, with mottled successes and some stunning failures. But I’ve held out hope, nonetheless. Until now.

The unincorporated areas of South DeKalb face three major problems. The foreclosure crisis rages on here, depressing property values. The incorporation movement threatens to soak up all the valuable commercial real estate, leaving south DeKalb mired in low-value property with high government service costs. And the transportation options stink. Mixed use development could solve all of that at once.

Then, this.

I should drive Richard Florida out here, hand him a pistol and tell him to do the right thing.   Read more

Why Politicians Don’t Pee In A Cup

The next time mandatory drug testing for the untouchable class of the moment — sex offenders, pedophiles, welfare recipients, used car dealers — comes up in the legislature, someone will inevitably call for mandatory drug testing for politicians. Because, of course, they’d all have to be completely wasted all the time to come up with the nonsense that passes for legislation around here. Har, har. Everyone gets a cheap laugh.

Do you know why we don’t drug test legislators? Consider the moments when the scoundrels we’ve elected are trying not to pee on themselves while holding a plastic cup in the bathroom. One’s ability to serve ceases to be a function of winning an election. It becomes a function of passing a urinalysis. Specifically, it becomes a function of a state police lab honestly processing and reporting the results of a urinalysis.

And that is not a given.

For a moment, a legislator becomes beholden to the very people for whom he or she sets policies and budgets. That is why the Bibles on swearing-in day don’t smell faintly of urine. (Or so I’m told.) That’s also why lawmakers aren’t subject to arrest for routine misbehavior like speeding while the legislature is in session … since an ornery sheriff could probably find a reason to lock up politicians he doesn’t like on a day local funding comes up for a vote.

(Before you dismiss that out of hand, please remember that we live in Georgia.)

Thus, the curious case of Stan Jester in DeKalb. Jester was elected without opposition to the DeKalb County School Board last year. He has a long record of outspoken, strident and meticulously documented opposition to the school bureaucracy.

He is also not a school employee. Both the school system’s policies and state law explicitly say that board members are not “employees” of the school system. Jester doesn’t work for the school system. He works for the public, supervising the school system.

That might seem like a small distinction. But Jester is being denied his paycheck and access to school system email over it.

Jester refused to submit to a criminal background check by the school system when being sworn in. He’s willing to be backgrounded … just not by the people he has oversight authority over. (He’s gone through a GCIC check produced by Dunwoody, and posted it online.) His wife Nancy — a former school board member who won election to the county commission last year — was fingerprinted when she was elected. She raised objections on the same grounds and was told after the fact that the system had erred … and that it wouldn’t happen again.

Of course, no one new is normally going to know that. Jester had early warning.

Part of this is a matter of stubborn principle, to be certain. But the chairman of the school board, Melvin Johnson, sent Jester an email last month affirming the school district fingerprinting policy. “The District is in receipt of your State background check information conducted by the DeKalb County Police Department and transmitted to the District’s Public Safety Office. However the District’s policies and procedures require a certified national fingerprinting and background check. Please advise.”

That pushes the matter from principle into practical concern.

Jester and I don’t see eye to eye on big picture policy questions, but that’s really beside the point. This is exactly what a school system still on double-secret probation by its accrediting agency needs to avoid. The idea of forcing a dissident school board member to fight for his paycheck is an affront to the democratic process. It’s a sign that the central office is playing political games. It’s short-sighted and embarrassing and — given the conditions — deeply threatening.

Michael Thurmond, the DeKalb school superintendent, has been making noises in political circles about running for CEO, or so I’m told. But he’s badly mangled talks with the charter cluster movement in uber-progressive Druid Hills. Now this. Sure, the CEO election is partisan — he’d be running against Democrats in a primary, so I can only figure he thinks he can score cheap points by mangling the lone Republican on the board. But if he is to be taken seriously as a leader in a county as badly fractured along political and racial lines as DeKalb, I humbly suggest he show some leadership … and hold whoever is holding Jester’s paycheck and email accountable.

If he doesn’t … then he’s either causing the problem or lacks the managerial skill to solve it.

Mr. Thurmond. Find the people with Jester’s check, cancel their “conference tickets” to Denver and hand them plastic cups. They’re smoking something.

MARTA Cracks Down On Freeloaders

Keith Parker is the first person in a long time who appears to have general acclaim for his performance as the transit agency’s chief. His contract was extended recently. Ridership is up about 10 percent for the quarter, part of a steady rise since he took over at the end of 2012. MARTA renegotiated terms with the labor union, allowing for the first pay increase since 2006. Service has been expanded. The  1-cent sales tax Clayton County voted for to join MARTA will bring new service there this year. The new Atlanta streetcar will take MARTA fare cards when it begins charging in a few months. And companies are starting to locate close to MARTA stations as a recruiting tool.

MARTA has been able to achieve much of this success through aggressive cost cutting and revenue management. Parker in-sourced expensive IT contracts and started using cost-efficient natural gas buses, for example. But the next stage of cost containment may rankle some folks who’ve been taking advantage for a while.

No more free parking for people who aren’t riding.

The lots at Lenox, Midtown, Arts Center and Vine City will be fitted with machines that will only allow exit for free after swiping a recently-used MARTA card. People will apparently still be able to park for free for under 24 hours at some lots on the outskirts, but MARTA will replace cashiers with machines backed by off-site teleconferenced help.

MARTA is also taking bids on technology for smartphone payment — and there’s no shortage of local payment processing firms to try for it — that would also show open spaces at different lots.

Sounds great so far. If people are using free MARTA lots to escape the evils of PARKAtlanta and street spaces, then I’m all for a crackdown.

That said … MARTA plans to turn over its own parking enforcement to a third party.

“The contract with the winning parking agency will guarantee MARTA a stream of revenue of at least $562,000 a year and rising if revenues rise. MARTA wouldn’t have to foot the bill for implementing the new technology, a cost that could run $5 million to $6 million, according to MARTA. And the transit agency believes the operational cost savings of running the lots with machines will more than cover the cost of implementing them.”

This resembles the line that the city of Atlanta used to justify turning over parking enforcement to Duncan Solutions, PARKAtlanta’s parent. And PARKAtlanta is, as we all know now, Satan’s valet service. The PARKAtlanta contract rivals the Falcons stadium deal for the most hated decision made by Atlanta’s leadership in the last 10 years.

I remain cautiously optimistic. But let’s look closely at the service levels guaranteed in the contract, please, and not just the amount of money a contractor promises to raise. Thanks.