Mirabito earns praise for transforming troubled bus sytem

When Bob Mirabito was selected to lead the Capital Area Transit System in 2013, the agency was facing a public image meltdown, undergoing a massive service expansion and dealing with allegations of board corruption and financial mismanagement.

Many concerned transit advocates questioned handing the reins of a system under siege to a man with no previous transportation experience, and unsuccessfully tried to get the board to consider a national search for top tier CEO.

Now that Mirabito’s contract is about to expire, the CATS board will have to make another determination about the future of the agency’s leadership. But this time, it appears Mirabito has widespread support from the board and community transit advocates.

“Going out for a national search now would probably just derail and distract from the momentum and progress they have made and are making,” said David Aguillard, a spokesman for the Baton Rouge Transit Coalition, a CATS watchdog group. “The board is very lucky to have a guy of his caliber, given the process they used to engage him.”

Mirabito was initially hired to lead on an interim basis, following the resignation of former CEO Brian Marshall. But he was officially given the job and a $140,000 per year, 13-month contract last November. Under the terms of his contract, the board has until the end of September to notify him if they will move forward with a search to replace him.

Last year, Aguillard attended the board meeting to urge the members to consider a national search — something previous board members had indicated would be an eventual part of the process.

But on Friday, Aguillard said that while the decision not to hold a search was a “missed opportunity,” he agrees Mirabito is doing an “outstanding job.”

Rachel DiResto, executive vice president of the Center for Planning Excellence, also applauded Mirabito’s work this past year.

“Bob has done a good job stabilizing the transit agency,” she said. “He seems to be very solution-oriented.”

In particular, she said, Mirabito has done a good job communicating the agency’s progress and challenges.

DiResto said the board ultimately will have to decide Mirabito’s future with the agency, but she doesn’t think a change in leadership is needed .

“While there have been considerable bumps and ups and downs, continuity is a good path to keep the agency in a forward motion,” she said. “I don’t think a leadership change is warranted in anyway.”

Donna Collins-Lewis, CATS board president, said the board is in the process of evaluating Mirabito’s performance and has not yet discussed the possibility of a national search. She said her personal opinion is that Mirabito should continue to lead the agency.

“He came in at a very difficult time, especially for a guy with no transit experience,” she said. “He came in and turned the image of that whole agency around.”

Almost immediately after Mirabito was appointed as interim CEO, a board member was accused of stealing money from the agency to pay his bills. Montrell McCaleb stepped down and was later arrested. At the same time, the agency was tasked with delivering a complete system overhaul by April 1 of this year, which included rewriting every existing route and expanding service and staff.

The system expansion is the result of promises made during an April 2012 tax election. The agency has delivered on a pared-down version of the promises made during the tax election.

Earlier this month, Together Baton Rouge, a faith-based nonprofit that was involved with campaigning for the CATS tax, awarded CATS an A- for delivering on its goals to date.

Together Baton Rouge officials declined to comment for this story.

Mirabito said he’d like to stay on with the agency, and is hopeful the board would consider a long-term relationship, rather than annual contract renewals.

“I think I’ve demonstrated leadership and the ability to navigate through all the land mines,” Mirabito said.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.the advocate.com/cityhallbuzz.