Mayor questions Marshall stand
The president of the board that oversees the parish bus system admitted Tuesday to making some mistakes, but refused calls for his resignation by transit advocates and elected officials.
Speaking at a town hall meeting at Southern University, Isaiah Marshall said he had not engaged in any misconduct and saw no reason to step down from his position with the Capital Area Transit System.
Metro Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards had called the town hall meeting to provide residents with an update on how far CATS has come in delivering improved services.
“Even though there may have been some things I could have done better, none of us here have never not made a mistake or never not made a misstep,” Marshall said.
He continued, “I don’t believe there’s anything I’ve done as it relates to misconduct in office. I don’t believe there’s anything I’ve done with ill intentions, or anything I’ve done to abuse the position in which I sit.”
Mayor-President Kip Holden also attended Tuesday’s meeting and called on CATS to demonstrate accountability and “get its house in order.”
Speaking after the meeting, Holden questioned Marshall’s refusal to resign.
“He can’t just gloss this over, knowing full well that there are problems that have to be looked at and also a need to satisfy questions the public still has,” Holden said.
The mayor added that the CATS board has lost the public’s support.
“They’re going to have to do a major public relations job in order to win the public’s confidence again, and it may entail some board members resigning,” Holden said. “I don’t think the public is going to be satisfied with this pace, and I don’t think they’re going to be satisfied until they get some answers.”
CATS has been the subject of two controversies in recent weeks, with Marshall taking much of the public blame.
Last week, board member Montrell McCaleb was discovered using CATS funds to pay his personal bills, and abruptly resigned, while maintaining his innocence. Marshall knew two months before it was eventually reported to law enforcement.
He also was advised by his attorney July 10 to inform the board and to allow the CEO to report the incident to authorities.
Marshall conceded Tuesday that he should have informed the other board members. He said the matter was not initially reported to law enforcement because he saw it as an “internal issue” that needed to first be investigated.
“There were some other things that needed to be, in my mind, uncovered and investigated,” Marshall said in an interview after the Town Hall meeting. “The question we have to ask ourselves is, how did a board member get access to that information?”
The legislative auditor and the state inspector general have confirmed they are now investigating the agency.
Marshall gave himself credit Tuesday for bringing to light the recently reported issue of funds being unaccounted for in fare boxes — a problem he said had not been identified by previous board officers and treasurers.
The issue was announced Monday at a news conference by the new CEO for CATS, Robert Mirabito, who said it’s unclear whether the fare box discrepancies are theft or a software problem.
The CATS board has also taken heat over a selection process used to award a $1.5 million transit management contract. The selection committee that scored applicants was stacked with board members, and the evaluation scores that came back from a community representative appeared to unfairly favor one firm over three others with more transit experience.
Marshall said he changed the typical selection process used for such contract awards because he wanted to expedite the process, which he thought was lagging while in staff hands.
But he admitted his attempt to rush the process may have been a mistake.
“I didn’t see us going where we needed to be, and moving swiftly has caused some heartburn, rightfully so,” he said. “My sole intention was to get the process moving.”
Mirabito, CATS CEO of five months, said starting the selection process over means the transit management firm will not be in place until October or November.
But he said getting the firm in place is a priority for his administration.
Mirabito, a businessman, does not have transit management experience, and the transit management firm will offer technical guidance needed to expand and improve service, as promised in the 2012 tax promises.
Mirabito also said the public will be invited to weigh in on proposed new routes by September. Some bus shelters have been ordered, he said, and he’s also launching a bus shelter refurbishing project, where old shelters will be cleaned, painted, repaired and equipped with lighting.
Edwards, who has previously defended Marshall from other council members who have called for his resignation, said on Tuesday night that his resignation might be best for the organization.
“I believe in reconciliation and restoration,” Edwards said, evoking a metaphor about infrastructure redevelopment. “One thing that had to happen was the original structure had to be demolished so a brand new structure could be built.”
Asked after the meeting, Edwards said she didn’t support her colleagues attacking board members without having conversations with them. But she thought all board members should consider resigning for the betterment of the organization.
Next month, the Metro Council is expected to vote on items that will both ask the CATS board to resign, and to forcibly remove both Marshall and Dalton Honore’ II.
Earlier Tuesday, a group of residents who fought against the CATS tax last year met for what a member of the group called the “I-told-you-so meeting.”
The group, led by East Baton Rouge Republican Party President Woody Jenkins, a former legislator, said while they were unsuccessful in their efforts to kill the tax, it was their lobbying at the capitol last year that led to the governor’s decision to veto a bill that would have removed the Metro Council’s oversight over the CATS board.
The legislation would have limited the council’s ability to control fare and route changes, but it still gave them authority to appoint and remove board members.