Changes eyed to CATS board appointment process

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Metro Councilwomen Ronnie Edwards, left, and C. Denise Marcelle are shown during a Metro Council meeting in this October 2012 Advocate staff photo.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Metro Councilwomen Ronnie Edwards, left, and C. Denise Marcelle are shown during a Metro Council meeting in this October 2012 Advocate staff photo.

The nine-member board of the Capital Area Transit System has a vacancy, and whoever applies for the open seat could be subjected to additional scrutiny beyond what other board appointees have received.

Metro Councilwomen C. Denise Marcelle and Ronnie Edwards plan to ask the Metro Council next month to create a committee to vet applicants and make recommendations to the council before the newest CATS board member is appointed.

The council is responsible for assigning appointments to various governing boards and commissions, including CATS, the Library Board of Control, the Baton Rouge Recreation and Parks Commission and the Metro Airport Commission.

If approved, this would be the only formal committee in place to make recommendations to the Metro Council about board appointments. Edwards said there’s increased interest in the appointment to the CATS board because of the 10.6-mill property tax voters approved last year.

“Anytime you have millions of dollars involved in decision-making, there’s going to be a heightened sense of interest,” she said. “If the tax had not passed, you would not be seeing this level of activity.”

Thomas Govan, a past CATS board president, resigned Jan. 2 and the council is expected to appoint someone to the open seat March 27.

In January, the Metro Council filled four open seats on the CATS board by reappointing three members and appointing one new member, Metro Councilman Ryan Heck.

The appointment process for CATS in January drew a greater than average pool of 16 candidates, and Edwards said some council members felt unprepared for that appointment process.

“My concern initially was not to have a repeat of the January fiasco and end up with 16 or 17 candidates that are not vetted,” she said.

Marcelle said she felt the January appointments were influenced by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. She said she wants to ensure wider interests are represented.

“I saw an interest in some people wanting to control the board, and I don’t want any one entity or group controlling the board,” Marcelle said.

She said the details are still to be worked out, but she envisions a citizens committee made up of different stakeholders, including riders, churches, LSU, Southern University and business owners.

Isaiah Marshall, CATS board chairman, said the council’s desire to have a vetting committee shows “wisdom and prudence on their part.”

He said he hopes the council ultimately appoints someone who will be “engaged in the bus system” and will “deliver for the people who have an interest in public transportation.”

The newest board member, Heck, said the responsibility to appoint board members ultimately lies with the council.

“I think it’s great there’s so much interest, but ultimately there is a committee that is already set up to do this and that is the Metro Council,” he said. “We’ll all vote our conscience and hopefully appoint the most qualified person.”

Together Baton Rouge, a faith-based nonprofit that was heavily involved in the tax campaign last year, said it will invite candidates to public interviews co-hosted with BRAC and the AARP.

Edgar Cage, a Together Baton Rouge leader, said it will host the interviews March 13 with a follow-up opportunity on March 22 at an undetermined location.

“We want them to tell us what they bring to the table and what their qualifications are,” Cage said. “Tell us your strengths and what is your vision for the bus system.”

He said they will not make a recommendation to the Metro Council about a preferred candidate, but the public interviews could benefit the council members’ decision-making as well as provide additional transparency to the public.

Edwards said she’d consider withdrawing the request for the council to establish a committee, if it seems Together Baton Rouge’s interview process would be accomplishing their same goal. But she said she wanted the group to provide recommendations to the council.

To date, 13 people have applied to the CATS board, and the deadline for submissions is March 21. But council members can make nominations from the floor when they vote March 27.

The Metro Council is expected to consider creating the committee at its March 13 meeting.