Rep. Jacobs Bills Reach Governor’s Desk

March 30, 2014

The 2014 legislative session concluded on March 20, 2014, earlier than any other legislative session in the past 18 years. This is the first of a series of messages to update you on what passed and what didn’t pass this year.

I am pleased to report that every bill I was pushing this year has passed and is awaiting Governor Deal’s approval or already has been signed into law. These five bills are as follows:

1&2. House Bill 264 and House Bill 265 (click to read the bills) – These bills, known as the “MARTA bills,” have been a three-year project. The MARTA board of directors currently has 11 voting members. Four of these members are appointed by the DeKalb County Commission, and three are appointed by the Fulton County Commission. Of the Fulton members, two are required to be residents of North Fulton. HB 264 will change one of the DeKalb members to be appointed by a caucus of the DeKalb mayors. The two North Fulton members will be appointed by a caucus of the North Fulton mayors. This will give cities such as Sandy Springs, Brookhaven, Chamblee and Dunwoody direct influence on the MARTA board.

HB 264 streamlines the required collective bargaining process with the transit union by eliminating an inefficient arbitration proceeding. The superior court judge who now will resolve collective bargaining issues on a 90-day deadline will be required to take into account MARTA’s ten-year financial projections in making a decision on union demands. MARTA also will be given more flexibility to manage its financial resources, including three years of relief from the “50-50 split” which requires 50 percent of all sales tax revenues to be allocated to capital projects and no more than 50 percent on operations.

HB 264 gives MARTA the authority to impose fines and penalties on riders who engage in nuisance behavior. This is an effort to enhance public safety on the system.

HB 265, the other bill of the pair, repeals two outdated provisions of the general Georgia Code pertaining to MARTA. It also gives Clayton County voters the opportunity to join MARTA if they vote no later than 2016 to pay the penny sales tax that is charged in Fulton and DeKalb.

As I have said previously, I am pleased that MARTA is privatizing key operations on its own, without any legislative mandates. MARTA is beginning to see cost savings from this effort.

Thank you to Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) and Senator Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) for their assistance in the Senate in ensuring passage of these two bills.

3. House Bill 979 (click to read) – This bill completes the reduction of the DeKalb County Board of Education from nine seats to seven seats effective January 1, 2015. Governor Deal signed this bill into law on February 26, 2014, the same day it achieved final passage in the General Assembly.

HB 979 scraps the two “super districts” that each encompass half the county, retains the seven existing single-member districts that are fairly and logically drawn, and will ensure stable governance on our formerly troubled school board. Without HB 979, this year’s school board elections could not have gone forward. Click here for a WABE news story regarding this bill.

Thank you to Senator Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) and Senator Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) for their help in passing HB 979 in the Senate.

4. Senate Bill 386 (click to read) – This bill requires redaction of personal information such as social security numbers and bank account numbers in civil filings in state court. This privacy measure was a joint effort with Senator John Albers (R-Roswell). It is modeled after Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2, which is a similar rule that applies in federal court.

5. House Bill 1136 (click to read) – This bill authorizes the City of Brookhaven to utilize tax allocation districts (TADs) if the citizens vote in favor of this redevelopment mechanism in a referendum this November. TADs do not impose new or additional taxes, but rather allow the marginal increases in commercial property taxes that automatically may result from commercial redevelopment to be used for infrastructure improvements in a localized area.

This bill was passed at the request of the City of Brookhaven. If approved by the voters, TADs could be used to spur redevelopment in areas such as Buford Highway in the future.


False Ethics Accusations

March 30, 2014

This morning a blogger acting on my opponent’s behalf made false accusations of ethics violations against my campaign. The blogger “charges” me with disclosing campaign reimbursements exactly the way that State Ethics Commission staff instructed me to do so. My campaign disclosures always reconcile to the penny with the bank statements and expense reimbursements are paid one time only.


March 10 Town Hall Meeting Video

March 29, 2014

Senator Fran Millar and I held a town hall meeting on Monday, March 10, at Chamblee First United Methodist Church. Thank you to The Brookhaven Post for producing this video of the event.


Cause for Optimism at MARTA

March 10, 2014

I anticipate House Bills 264 and 265, two bills I introduced last year that would affect MARTA, will be revived for consideration in this year’s General Assembly. These bills had several mandates in them related to privatization and efficient governance. I will discuss these bills at greater length in a future update, but wanted to set the stage by republishing the following editorial I wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on December 10, 2013:

December 2013 marked the one-year anniversary of Keith Parker’s installation as general manager of MARTA. He arrived in Atlanta from previous stints in Charlotte and San Antonio where he was well-liked and respected on both sides of the political divide.

When Mr. Parker arrived, parties who had been involved in his selection said he had the potential to be the transformative leader that MARTA sorely needed. The transit system had been slashing service and hemorrhaging red ink as far as the eye could see.

I was not optimistic. Now entering my tenth year as a member of the state legislature’s MARTA Oversight Committee (MARTOC) and my fourth year as its chairman, Mr. Parker is the fifth general manager to serve during my tenure. MARTA leadership has been a revolving door.

Today, after a full year of Keith Parker’s leadership, I can safely say that I was wrong, a rare statement to be made by someone in elected office. There is cause for optimism at MARTA, and Mr. Parker is at the root of it.

When Keith Parker arrived at MARTA, there was a management audit sitting on his desk that the accounting and consulting firm KPMG had completed in 2012 at the behest of MARTA’s prior management. KPMG recommended, among other things, the privatization of certain aspects of MARTA’s operations, including paratransit bus service, bus and train cleaning, human resources and payroll, and various information technology functions.

The aim of the KPMG audit is cost savings and efficiency. Its recommendations are drawn from the best practices of other transit systems and the private sector. For example, MARTA has had its own payroll department. Live MARTA employees have processed its payroll. This is a function widely outsourced in both the public and private sectors these days.

Some state lawmakers are determined to keep the KPMG audit from collecting dust. This is the fate of so many studies performed for governmental entities. Some studies deserve that fate, but not a study the purpose of which is to help MARTA save money and operate more efficiently.

Keith Parker assured me that the KPMG audit would not collect dust. I adopted the Ronald Reagan doctrine: “Trust but verify.” After all, savings and efficiency have not been MARTA’s strong suit over the years. Every couple of months, we hold a MARTOC meeting and put the implementation of the KPMG audit on the agenda.

KPMG furnished a five-year road map for implementing its privatization recommendations. Keith Parker is following through with his commitment. He and his staff are making progress where progress desperately needs to be made.

Another area where Mr. Parker has excelled is boosting confidence in public safety. MARTA’s crime statistics always have stacked up well against peer transit systems, but infractions like loud music and aggressive panhandling have tended to sour the public perception of safety. As with many things in life, perception becomes reality. MARTA loses riders as a result.

When I speak about MARTA at public gatherings these days, the “Ride with Respect” campaign always comes up. Spearheaded by Keith Parker, this effort includes a crackdown on unruly behavior and an aggressive public relations blitz. It coincides with MARTA installing closed-circuit cameras on all of its buses and trains.

The legislature and MARTA, a state-created authority, historically have had a chilly relationship. Listen closely, however, and you will hear the dripping of thawing ice.

The keys to improved relations with the General Assembly are implementing the KPMG recommendations, achieving cost savings and operational efficiencies in the way MARTA is run, and improving the quality of life for MARTA riders.

Clearly, Keith Parker understands what needs to be done. Hopefully the revolving door will stop spinning for a while. I am glad Mr. Parker arrived in Atlanta.


Town Hall Meeting – March 10

March 2, 2014

Senator Fran Millar and I will host a town hall meeting on state and local issues next Monday, March 10, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Chamblee First United Methodist Church, 4147 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, located between I-285 and Peachtree Boulevard.


DeKalb School Board Shrinks to 7 Seats

March 2, 2014

A month ago, the school accrediting agency SACS took the DeKalb County School System off of probation, which is the status one step away from complete accreditation loss. The system had been placed on probation approximately one year earlier for mismanagement, dysfunction and other shortcomings of the school board.

As a result of the school system being placed on probation, and pursuant to state law, Governor Deal replaced six out of the nine members of the school board with individuals who have conducted themselves in a professional, even-keeled manner. Governor Deal deserves credit for setting events in motion that are causing our school system’s accreditation status to be restored.

DeKalb County is under a state mandate, adopted in 2011 but effective for the first time in this year’s elections, to reduce the size of the school board from nine to seven members. Fewer members is more efficient and reduces the possible agendas involved.

The current school board is comprised of seven single-member districts and two “super districts” that each contain half the county. The current single-member school board districts are compact and logical, and to a significant extent follow school attendance zones.

In the very short period of 17 days, I proposed, the House and Senate passed, and Governor Deal signed into law House Bill 979 (click for more information), a bipartisan bill that will shrink the school board to seven members by peeling off the two super districts.

WABE radio (click for story) explained why quick action was necessary. If HB 979 failed to pass, the school board election process that begins this Monday could not go forward.

The DeKalb House Delegation responded by proposing a disastrous redistricting map for the school board. To view this proposed map side-by-side with the existing map, click on the graphic that is embedded in the WABE story linked above.

The abominable redistricting proposal contains a series of seven long north-to-south districts. These districts would assure that most of the current board members won’t return.

The proposed map flies in the face of the recommendations of Dr. Mark Elgart, CEO of SACS, who has noted that stability and continuity are essential to continued improvement in DeKalb’s accreditation status.

The map also was put forward with no allowance whatsoever for public input. I am certain this is not the map that citizens anywhere in the county would endorse.

Fortunately, the passage of HB 979 will trump this nonsense. With the accreditation of our schools on the line, now is not the time to redraw districts in a manner that virtually guarantees disruption of the progress the school board has made.


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