MARTA took its first tentative steps toward a future without Keith Parker Thursday, appointing a 22-year agency veteran to serve as his temporary replacement.
The MARTA Board of Directors named Chief Legal Counsel Elizabeth O’Neill to be interim general manager and CEO. She’ll oversee the day-to-day operations of the transit agency, working with departing G.M. and CEO Parker until he leaves in mid-October.
The MARTA board also agreed to seek an executive search firm to find Parker’s permanent replacement. They expect to pick a firm in October.
MARTA plans to conduct a national search for a permanent replacement. Chairman Robbie Ashe said the board will follow the same process that brought Parker to Atlanta five years ago “so we can find MARTA’s next great general manager.”
Parker announced this week he’s leaving MARTA to become president and CEO of Goodwill of North Georgia. He’ll replace Raymond Bishop, who is retiring after 27 years.
Parker is widely credited with reviving MARTA, which was bleeding red ink when he arrived in 2012. He shored up its finances, cracked down on boorish passengers and launched a slew of initiatives – like wi-fi and fresh-food markets – to make riding MARTA more pleasant.
He won praise from business and political leaders and – admirers say – helped revive the prospects for mass transit in metro Atlanta. During his tenure, Clayton County voters agreed to join MARTA, and Atlanta voters last year approved a $2.5 billion expansion. Fulton and DeKalb counties also are considering expansions.
On Thursday Parker assured board members MARTA will be fine without him.
“The trains will run on time and the buses will be there,” he told them.
Ashe agreed. He said Parker has put in place a team that will ensure the agency keeps moving in the right direction.
The latest team member, Deputy General Manager Arthur “Rob” Troupe, will start Sept. 18. Troupe is a former executive with the infrastructure and design firm HNTB and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority executive.
Ashe said O’Neill’s lengthy tenure at MARTA made the board confident she’s the right person to run the agency on a temporary basis.
O’Neill started her MARTA career as senior associate counsel in 1995 and was promoted to chief of litigation in 1999. She later served as chief counsel and assistant general manager before a promotion to chief legal counsel in 2013.
In a statement, O’Neill said she is humbled by the latest appointment.
“These are truly exciting times for MARTA as we continue to deliver the highest level of service while building upon our standard of excellence, enhancing our system through technology and expanding our service footprint,” she said.
Ashe said O’Neill is not interested in assuming the general manager’s job on a permanent basis. The search for a permanent CEO could take six to nine months.
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