CATS board could change; 4 members seek reappointment

The board that oversees the parish’s public transit system could be in for changes, as the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council next week prepares to refill almost half the board’s appointments.

Four out of the nine members of the Capital Area Transportation’s board of directors have completed their three-year terms and are asking to be reappointed. But 12 others have also been nominated for the seats.

When the council votes Wednesday, council members can nominate additional members of the public from the floor, council administrator Brian Mayers said.

With the passage of the 10.6-mill property tax, an ongoing lawsuit about the constitutionality of the tax, and a long-term plan to completely revamp and expand bus service, the new CATS board will be integral in setting the agency’s direction for the next several years.

Jared Loftus, who serves as board president, is among board members whose terms have expired. Loftus became increasingly visible ahead of the tax election as he championed the public relations campaign to provide information about the new tax on the board’s behalf.

“The important thing for the board right now is to have committed people with business, financial, or organizational experience; a desire to make the system better; and the time to devote towards getting it there,” Loftus said in an email.

Deborah Roe, Marla Williams and Dalton Honoré are also sitting members seeking reappointment to the board.

Williams, a lawyer and the executive director of the Louisiana Housing Alliance, said her job specializes in affordable housing which has a correlation with providing public transportation.

Williams said board members who have weathered recent budget shortfalls and two tax elections bring important institutional knowledge that will help the agency deliver on the goals they have promised.

“We’ve been through some challenging economic times,” she said. “To say, ‘Thank you for getting us over this hump with the election, and now it’s time to set you aside,’ isn’t for the best. We have lots of context because we’ve seen the good and the bad.”

Metro Councilman Ryan Heck is among the candidates hoping to be appointed to the board. If appointed, he would be the second council member to sit on the CATS board, along with Donna Collins-Lewis.

Heck said he “vehemently opposes the CATS tax,” passed in April.

“But if it’s the law of the land, and the money will be collected and spent for CATS, then we have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure its spent correctly,” he said. “With that amount of money we could have a very robust system, and I want to make sure we get what we pay for.”

The chronically broke bus system asked for a dedicated tax last year, promising to improve and expand service. Most notably, CATS promised to make the system more attractive to riders by reducing the wait times to 15 minutes during peak hours of service.

CATS estimates it will receive $15.3 million this year from the new tax.

But the tax is being contested in state court by a businessman who asserts that the tax is unconstitutional, because it is being levied only in the city limits of Baton Rouge and Baker, despite bus service being offered outside those areas.

Other candidates vying for the office include local businessmen and women, and some people who serve on other parish boards and commissions.

Mari Presedo, a member of the East Baton Rouge Republican Women and former business owner, said she’s “not a professional or career board person,” but could bring “common sense” to the board.

Kenneth Perret, another candidate and president of the Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association, said he has a long history working in transportation and is familiar with the federal funding processes that provide grants for public transportation.

Perret said he’d like to eventually look at expanding funding opportunities beyond just the city limits of Baton Rouge and Baker.

Councilman Joel Boé said CATS needs board members who are ready to “roll up their sleeves … and be more hands on than some of the other boards.”

Boé said he expected to support Loftus’ reappointment but wasn’t sure what other candidates he would support.

Councilman John Delgado said he would support Loftus as well. He said he also plans to vote for Heck, because he wants to see increased council participation on the parish boards and commissions.

Delgado said the board appointments are crucial and members will need to be able to meet the time commitment necessary for the agency.

“It’s not going to be a meet once a month gig,” Delgado said. “They need to be dedicated and committed to fixing what we can agree is a fairly broken system.”

Those vying for a CATS seat are: Loftus, Heck, Honoré, Roe, Williams, Perret, Presedo, Dustin Puryear, James Gammel, Anthony Nelson, Cassandra Bickham, Emmett Robbins, Twahna Harris, Helena Cunningham, Ladonna Ward and Timothy Pickett.