CATS board President Isaiah Marshall resigns

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Isaiah Marshall is seen in this February 2013 photo. Marshall resigned Thursday as board chairman of the Capital Area Transit System.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Isaiah Marshall is seen in this February 2013 photo. Marshall resigned Thursday as board chairman of the Capital Area Transit System.

Calls media attention a ‘distraction to the system’

Embattled CATS board President Isaiah Marshall has resigned from the board that oversees the Baton Rouge transit system, Mayor-President Kip Holden confirmed late Thursday.

“I’m glad he made the right decision. His continued leadership on the board would have caused much more controversy and division in the city and the parish. I compliment him for the work he has done, but it’s a decision that had to be made to move CATS forward,” Holden said in a telephone interview.

In recent weeks, Holden, some members of the Metro Council, and the faith-based group Together Baton Rouge have questioned why Marshall continued to serve as Capital Area Transit System board president when ethical and criminal accusations plague the board.

The board had to reject proposals for a $1.5 million transit management contract, originally recommended to be awarded to SJB Group, because of concern the selection process was tainted. Marshall’s leadership was further questioned when a board member, Montrell McCaleb, came under fire and ultimately resigned amid allegations he used bus system money to pay his personal bills.

McCaleb, who said he resigned for health reasons, has denied the accusations. Marshall knew about the incident for two months before the alleged theft was reported to police.

Marshall, CATS interim CEO Robert Mirabito and CATS spokesman Clay Young were not immediately available late Thursday night for comment.

CATS board member Jared Loftus said, “I respect Isaiah’s decision to step down from the board. I only hope this can help pave the way to get back to the real conversation that needs to be had, and that’s how do we provide the taxpayers of Baton Rouge with the transportation system they are paying for and deserve.”

WAFB reported that Marshall gave it a copy of the resignation letter to the TV station reading: “As many of you know, CATS has been in the media a lot over the last couple of weeks. As Board Chairman, I am disheartened by many of the things that have been said about our city’s transit company. I have worked hard as a board member to help deliver a better transit organization. I believe CATS’ best days are ahead. I also believe we are headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, this will occur without me as a board member. Effective immediately, I am resigning from the chairmanship and the CATS Board. It is clear to me that media attention on me will continue to be a distraction to the system that I have worked very hard to help improve. This is unfortunate. However, the system is bigger than me and the cause is greater than one board member. I have enjoyed my time on the board and do not regret choosing to serve this system. It is my departing wish that CATS will become the system that I believe it can be. A system that serves the needs our city and her citizens. I will be forever grateful to the men and women who work every day to improve the Capital Area Transit System. It has been my great privilege to work with you.”

During a town meeting Tuesday, Marshall admitted to making missteps but said there had been no misconduct on his part.

Marshall, pastor of Christland Christian Community Church on North Acadian Thruway West, is a managing partner with the Baton Rouge-based consulting firm Sable International, working with elected officials and members of the private sector in the areas of business and workforce development, project management and governmental affairs.

He started his career in the public arena in 1999, working for the city-parish in then Mayor-President Bobby Simpson’s administration.

A New Orleans native, Marshall, 40, served as the city-parish’s assistant director for the CAN DO program, a city-parish support office for neighborhood associations that administered a small grants program for neighborhood groups.

Following three years in that job, Marshall got involved with workforce development and became an assistant director overseeing the city-parish’s federal Workforce Investment Act grants program and then became that department’s director four years later.

Metro Council members Tara Wicker and Ronnie Edwards both knew and worked with Marshall during his time working with Simpson and later, Mayor-President Kip Holden.

Wicker, who once served as an assistant chief administrative officer under Simpson, said in an interview earlier this week that she has never known Marshall to do anything “illegal or immoral.”

“It’s been hard for me to draw a line from the problems being reported to anything Isaiah was involved in. I don’t see any evidence or anything premeditated,” Wicker said.

Edwards called Marshall “good people with a good heart and nothing but good intentions.”

“I think it’s unfair for him (Marshall) to be a scapegoat in all of this,” Edwards said earlier this week.

Both Edwards and Wicker hired Marshall’s consulting firm, Sabel International, to host campaign fundraisers after they were elected to the Metro Council in 2008.

Marshall was appointed to the CATS board in January 2009. A 2001 graduate of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Leadership Greater Baton Rouge academy, Marshall was one of nine applicants for the open spot on the board, receiving eight votes at the Jan. 14, 2009, Metro Council meeting. Three others abstained and one member was absent.

One of the votes for Marshall was from C. Denise Marcelle, who a year earlier had defeated Marshall for the District 7 seat on the Metro Council.

District 61 State Rep. Alfred C. Williams, a former East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member and a former assistant chief of staff to the Holden administration, was a major financial backer of Marshall’s 2008 campaign, loaning him more than $3,000 for the race, according to campaign finance reports.

Marshall also received $250 donations from District 15 state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome and Rannah Gray Marketing, Holden’s longtime public relations and marketing firm.

Marshall also received $500 in the race from political consultant Clay Young, according to campaign finance records.

CATS awarded Young a public relations contract late last year.

Young’s CATS contract was recently extended by the board until Oct. 31 for an amount not to exceed $32,000. He earns $120 per hour.

Young did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this article.

Another donation to Marshall’s 2008 campaign came from Sidni Lloyd-Shorter, who gave him $225.

Lloyd-Shorter stood to become the project manager had CATS voted to award the $1.5 million contract to SJB Group.

SJB, unlike the other three firms that bid for the contract, has no previous experience in transit management. The firm proposed to partner with Alliance Transportation Group, a company that has done consulting for the state Department of Transportation and Development for several years.

SJB’s proposed project manager was Lloyd-Shorter, who worked with the mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission that made the recommendation for a dedicated public transit tax two years ago.

Lloyd-Shorter also worked with the faith-based group Together Baton Rouge, which campaigned for the tax and subsequently held CATS accountable for meeting service benchmarks promised to the public.

Lloyd-Shorter is a former program director of Better Baton Rouge/Metromorphosis, a local nonprofit created by the Rev. Raymond Jetson, who was a major proponent of the CATS tax plan.

Jetson said recently that the two decided to sever professional ties as a result of the ongoing CATS controversy. Lloyd-Shorter did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this article.