"I'm honored. It's a little overwhelming," Leithead said shortly after his election. "The ARC is designated by federal law as the planning agency that represents the region. We've got 10 county governments and the city of Atlanta, and they come together at the ARC."
The ARC covers Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties. Its 39-member board is made up of 23 local elected officials, such as county chairmen, 15 private citizens and a representative of the state Department of Community Affairs.
Cobb Chairman Sam Olens has chaired the ARC for the last five years and did not seek re-election.
"It's daunting, following Sam," Leithead said. "He's been extraordinary and I hope to build upon what he's established. I'd also like to create a situation where ARC is the voice and authority for the region, the go-to organization on all issues that affect the region, and by that I mean water, transportation, land use, outreach, and potentially education."
Leithead prevailed on the third ballot for ARC chairman over Gwinnett County Chairman Charles Bannister and Fayette County Chairman Jack Smith.
Leithead, who until September had been an executive with Cousins Properties for eight years and now manages his own consulting firm called Tad Leithead Advisors, was first appointed to the District 11 citizen seat on the ARC in 2000 by then-Cobb Chairman Bill Byrne. For about five years, he has chaired the ARC's transportation and air quality committee, which Olens said is considered the No. 1 committee. The ARC chairman's term is for two years.
"There's been no member of the ARC board more engaged or more knowledgeable about transportation issues," Olens said of Leithead. "Unlike many members that talked about the need to go to the Legislature to talk about changes, he has been a very engaged, active member of the board."
"He's very hard working, and he is the consummate corporate citizen for the region because his service has not been limited to Cobb. He's put his time in," Olens said.
Leithead will be sworn in at the first ARC meeting in January. He is the chairman of the Cumberland Community Improvement District, and a member of both the Perimeter Center and North Fulton CIDs.
He and his wife, Sue, live in east Cobb near the Chattahoochee. They are the parents of two sons, Barry, 20, and Michael, 16.
Olens said Leithead's election marked a turning point for the ARC.
"Five years ago, when I became chair, there was almost a revolt among citizen members because they felt they were like second-class citizens on the ARC. In five years we went from near-revolt to having a citizen member elected chairman. That speaks very well for the health of the organization."