By REBEKAH ALLEN
Advocate staff writer
February 02, 2013
The parish bus system’s governing board began a series of meetings Thursday to discuss how to move the system forward following a recent report that recommended replacing CATS’ top managers with contracted employees from a transit management firm.
Some members of the Capital Area Transit System’s Board of Directors expressed skepticism about the report by TMG Consulting, questioning whether the firm’s recommendations were based on a fair assessment of the bus system’s operations.
TMG Consulting was hired by CATS in October to conduct an evaluation and made its final recommendations to the board on Jan. 15. Thursday was the first time the CATS board members gathered to discuss whether the changes would be seriously considered.
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation out in the public, and there’s a lot of distrust and a lot of tension,” CATS board President Jared Loftus told board members at the CATS finance and executive committee meeting.
He added, “This is a big deal. But what we have to remember is that we have an obligation to give the taxpayers who are funding this system, the system we promised in the tax election.”
All eight current members of CATS were invited to the committee meeting and six members attended.
Loftus said the board should explore any opportunities there are to improve the system.
Board members noted there was no estimate in the consultant’s report of how much extra it would cost to contract management, and discussed putting together a Request for Information or a Request for Proposals from interested firms to get an idea of what those cost could be.
“We know it is going to be more expensive but is it going to be $300,000 or is it going to be $3 million?” said board member Deborah Roe.
Roe also questioned some of the findings in TMG’s report about the bus system’s operations.
CATS Chief Financial Officer Gary Owens told the board there were many inaccuracies in TMG’s presentation. For example, he said, the report took issue with CATS budget because it said it did not include employee pay raises.
“That’s not true,” Owens said.
He later requested access to the full report so he could correct misstatements in the report for the board’s consideration.
“There are several insinuations and statements of fact that were inaccurate in the presentation,” Owens told the board. “My job is on the line, and I haven’t even seen the full report.”
Owens declined to comment after the meeting.
Board member Montrell McCaleb called the report “chicken scraps” and said he would not support contracting out management.
“So we paid a consultant for a presentation with mistakes?” McCaleb said angrily. “I could have had my niece do a better job with a presentation.”
CATS Chief Executive Officer Brian Marshall said the bus system has been consistently improving under his management team.
“I don’t know any deadlines that we’ve missed, I don’t know where we struggled,” Marshall said. “We delivered the GPS system three months early ... All of the performance metrics out there, we’re meeting or exceeding.”
Dalton Honore II, a CATS board member, reminded the board that they were not bound to adhering to the report’s exact recommendations.
“We don’t have to take the package as it exists,” Honore said. “Maybe we ought to look at creating our own alternatives.”
The board also acknowledged the report was having an impact on staff members who are concerned about keeping their jobs.
“All of the board members recognize how hard the staff has had to work without a pay increase for three or four years, and we are thankful and grateful for that and we expect you to continue to do the same,” Roe said. “Have some faith is all I’m saying. No one can be productive if they’re anxious, anxious, anxious.”
Roe said after the meeting she couldn’t guarantee that everyone would keep their jobs, but wanted staff to know the board is appreciative of their work.
The CATS finance and executive committee will meet again next Thursday at 11 a.m. to continue discussing the management report.
Loftus said they hope to meet weekly until the board decides to take action.