ATLANTA, Ga. -- While wrestling with a budget shortfall that has resulted in a reduction of services, MARTA has used tax dollars to send board members and staff on retreats outside of the office.
A MARTA spokesperson acknowledges board members or members of the MARTA staff have retreats "throughout the year," and any costs are paid through the authority's budget.
The bulk of MARTA' s funds come from a penny sales tax in Fulton and Dekalb Counties, as well as federal dollars.
In late 2010, MARTA paid a consultant $144,000 to conduct a study into, among other things, the effectiveness of the transit authority's general manager. Instead of a written report, the consultant delivered the results orally during a MARTA board retreat in December, 2011.
Instead of meeting at MARTA's six story office building in midtown, the agency spent $475 to rent a room five miles away at the Southface Energy Institute near downtown Atlanta.
Documents provided to 11Alive by MARTA show twelve board members and a lawyer were fed two catered meals.
In all, the retreat cost $797.
11Alive has filed an open records request seeking details of other retreats, including how many have been taken and how much it has cost taxpayers.
"There's a lot of small expenditures that seem unnecessary that over time can add up to large amounts," said state Representative Mike Jacobs, who heads the legislative committee that oversees MARTA. "It certainly doesn't look right when you're dealing with an agency that's hemorrhaging red ink."
MARTA would not provide anyone to answer questions on camera. Spokesperson Lyle Harris said retreats away from the office are common for government agencies to help employees focus and get more work done.
On Tuesday, MARTA board chairman Fredrick Daniels addressed the $144,000 study, and was quite defensive when it came to questions about the authority's spending.
"No longer will we stand silent as we are attacked viciously and unfairly by those who seek to use MARTA as a scapegoat or score cheap political points," said Daniels.
Rep. Jacobs will address MARTA's spending at a special legislative hearing Thursday morning.