The recommendation to hire ARCADIS, an engineering and consulting firm, was made by Cobb Department of Transportation Director Faye DiMassimo.
“We have a transportation plan in place, and periodically we’re required to update,” county chairman Tim Lee said. “This is an update, so it’s basically developing an updated roadmap for transportation in Cobb County for the next five years.”
Lee said the plan should take 18 months to finish.
Connections to the county
ARCADIS consultant James Hudgins happens to be a proud campaign supporter of Lee, walking with him during last year’s Marietta Fourth of July Parade sporting a “re-elect Lee” shirt. Hudgins can usually be spotted in the company of Lee or DiMassimo, whether it’s at a recent transportation conference at Southern Polytechnic State University, at Lee’s election party or at a Community Improvement District meeting.
Yet Lee denies Hudgins’ support of his candidacy has any bearing on ARCADIS being awarded the contract. “Absolutely none whatsoever. If you go back and track the system and the process, you’ll see that’s the case.”
In recommending ARCADIS for the job, DiMassimo writes that the cost will be paid with a $1 million federal grant that passes through the Atlanta Regional Commission, $120,000 from the Federal Transit Administration, $59,818 from Cobb cities and $220,181 from the 2011 county special purpose local option sales tax.
MDJ asked DiMassimo if the $1.4 million study was a requirement and, if so, who was requiring it. DiMassimo emailed a response referencing how it makes the county eligible for state and federal funding. She also said the plan is required by the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Questions about spending
Georgia Tea Party board member Larry Savage of east Cobb said the transportation study is a good example of the kind of wasteful spending that could easily be eliminated from the federal budget. Yet, he said, politicians in Washington give dire warnings of how disastrous the automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration” will be to the nation. Targeting airports, rather than transportation plans, is a clever way for the federal government to so inconvenience the public that it caves in to paying more taxes, Savage said.
DiMassimo says that conducting the plan “positions the county and its member jurisdictions and community improvement districts (CIDs) to continue to compete effectively for available federal and state dollars, through (the Georgia Department of Transportation and Atlanta Regional Commission).”
What’s interesting, Savage said, is that Tad Leithead chairs both the Cumberland CID board and the Atlanta Regional Commission.
“That’s kind of interesting that these federal grants come through ARC, so we have the Cumberland Improvement District chaired by Tad Leithead applying for grants from the ARC chaired by Tad Leithead,” Savage said. “Now if I am the only person who can see a conflict of interest in that relationship, then it’s a sad day for ethics in this county.”
Representing the region
Leithead denied such a conflict exists, noting the ARC has a strong code of ethics included in its bylaws. To suggest that Leithead as ARC chairman could direct ARC dollars to the Cumberland CID on a whim is inaccurate, he said.
“Remember that the ARC represents 10 counties,” Leithead said. “I’ve been chairman for three and a half years. If I did that once, I would no longer be chairman. That’s a fact. I have to be very balanced in terms of a regional perspective, and all 10 counties develop a transportation plan, and secondly, those decisions are not made at the board level, so there hasn’t even been a vote that I’ve had to recuse myself from.”
Leithead said the Cumberland CID was not involved in the county’s decision to hire ARCADIS.
“We’re not providing funding. We’re a stakeholder,” Leithead said. “We’ll provide information to them at their request to support the Cumberland Community Improvement District’s portion of the transportation plan, but I wasn’t involved in that decision and cannot direct funds in that fashion. That responsibility falls to the elected officials who represent the individual counties, in this case Tim Lee, but those don’t rise to the board level. Those are staff level.”
Savage said there’s a certain way of thinking among government employees when it comes to federally financed projects that federal money “grows on trees evidently or sprouts out of the ground. I am mystified at the need for all this stuff.”
Lee said the multi-million dollar Northwest Corridor studies the county is already conducting would be folded into the $1.4 million ARCADIS plan.
After completing a $1.8 million “Northwest Corridor Alternatives Analysis” study led by Croy Engineering that recommends spending $1.1 billion on a bus system from Kennesaw State University to Midtown Atlanta, the county launched a $3 million environmental study of the project by Kimley-Horn and Associates, which won’t wrap up for another year and a half.