ATLANTA - MARTA officials got called on the carpet Thursday by the chairman of the legislative committee that oversees the mass transit agency.

"So long as there is a MARTA oversight committee, I intend to do my job on behalf of my constituents," said an agitated Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Atlanta).

As chairman of the bipartisan MARTOC committee, Jacobs reminded MARTA officials the legislature that created the agency more than 40 years ago still has a right to question its spending.

He also blasted them for recently holding 7 secret meetings to pick a new general manager, in violation of Georgia's Open Meetings law, which he helped amend last year.

"It doesn't help to take a process that has been conducted in secret and continue to deal with it behind the scenes," Jacobs added.

MARTA's attorneys said they are negotiating those violations with the State Attorney General's office.

But most of the long hearing dealt with a recent audit MARTA commissioned that claims it could save as much as $50-million a year by streamlining its operations.

While many of MARTA's 4,500 employees are paid less than the national average salary for mass transit workers, their benefits cost a lot more, according to the audit.

Twenty-million a year more for retirement benefits, nine-million a year more for health care and high absenteeism costs MARTA more than eight-million a year, auditors testified.

MARTA's board chairman assured committee members the agency will take the audit's findings to heart, especially when it renegotiates with workers next year.

"I pay taxes and I am just as prudent in terms of using every dollar of MARTA's money as I would that in my own pocket," said Chairman Fred Daniels.

After three hours, time ran out and the committee never got around to 11 Alive's revelation earlier this week that MARTA paid a consultant $144,000 to evaluate its managers.

But committee chairman Jacobs wants them back in a few weeks to answer more questions, including why MARTA's fare machine system recently broke down for several days.

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