CATS CEO and councilman exchange barbs

It’s officially a political feud.

It’s been a few weeks since Metro Councilman John Delgado announced his intention to dissolve the Capital Area Transit System, but on Friday afternoon CATS interim CEO Bob Mirabito shot back with an “Open Letter to the Public” defending CATS and taking several digs at the councilman.

But shortly after the letter was sent out to the media, Delgado called the letter a weak attempt by Mirabito to protect his job as CATS chief executive.

In Mirabito’s letter, he asks the public to give him a chance to do his job and help improve CATS. He explains that plans to privatize CATS won’t work without a tax or a public subsidy, and he takes credit for shedding light on and correcting problems at CATS including the missing farebox money.

“Unfortunately, the announcement of these problems was used by some who would like to destroy CATS,” Mirabito wrote. “Some members of the ‘political class’ seem determined to have privatization of the system and an elimination of the property tax. These are not solutions.”

Last month, Delgado said he would ask the Metro Council to support a resolution urging the state Legislature to dissolve CATS, eliminating the 10.6-mill property tax and paving the way for the city-parish to privatize its bus service.

But last week, he pulled back on the council resolution, saying he would meet with state legislators and come up with a more palatable solution to improve CATS service.

Mirabito called privatization a “flamboyant solution” in his letter, noting that private companies expect to make a profit. He said a private company could not take over CATS and improve service if Delgado successfully repealed the CATS tax.

He said contracting out the managers also would require public money.

He concluded by saying that the best option for CATS is letting him and his staff finish what they’ve started.

“Our solution builds on what we have, while adding resources to deliver the system Baton Rouge deserves,” Mirabito said. “I’ve not been on the job for six months. However, I believe my start has earned me the opportunity to finish what I’ve started.”

He added, “Now is not the time to make this system a whipping post for political gain.”

In a phone call, Mirabito would not specifically name Delgado but said that he was referring to “any critic of CATS who wants to see it dissolved, see CATS as an agency disappear or see transit exist in a privatized environment.”

He later noted that Delgado has never met with him to discuss his plans or concerns about public transit.

Delgado said Friday afternoon that Mirabito’s letter was written “clearly out of self-interest.

“I’m not looking to privatize CATS, I’m looking for the best-qualified people to run it, and quite frankly Mr. Mirabito has zero transit experience,” Delgado said. “He’s not coming here as some sort of savior with all this vast experience. He was simply the last man standing at the end of a selection process.”

Mirabito was hired as an interim CEO in June. His background is in business and technology.

Delgado said his new plan is to have the state Legislature abolish the CATS board and give the Metro Council control of the agency. He said he does not want CATS to be entirely privatized, but he does want every administrative position to be contracted out to a highly qualified transit management firm.

“That includes the CEO, which is why Mr. Mirabito is concerned about his job,” Delgado said.

Delgado said he’s trying to preserve the transit system, which has failed riders for years.

“I want riders who use it to get the best system possible,” Delgado said. “They didn’t get it under (former CEO) Brian Marshall and they’re not getting it under Bob Mirabito.”

He added that if Mirabito wants input on his legislative proposals, then he should call Delgado’s office.