Councilman balks at committee’s CATS recommendation

A citizens committee established to vet applicants for the Capital Area Transit System board overstepped its authority by submitting only two names to the Metro Council for two vacancies to be filled this week, one council member says.

Metro Councilman John Delgado called the committee’s actions an insult to the Metro Council, which is scheduled to take up the appointments Wednesday to the board that oversee’s bus transportation in the parish.

“They sent us two names for two spots. This is not what they were supposed to do,” Delgado said. “I see this as a case of the tail wagging the dog. They’re trying tell us who to appoint.”

In August, the Metro Council established the citizens committee and optimal criteria board members should meet. Delgado said he was under the impression the committee would indicate which applicants met the criteria, and potentially recommend five or six top candidates.

The qualifications review committee nominated Jim Brandt, the former Public Affairs Research president, and William Johnson, a Baker resident who served in the Zachary Police Department and also spent five years as bus driver security supervisor in Baton Rouge.

At least 27 people applied for the board positions and Delgado said he was certain many more top-tier applicants should be seriously considered.

The recommendations are not binding, but Delgado said the process has put the council in a poor position.

“Now if you pick someone other than the two, people will say, ‘Oh you didn’t pick the committee’s recommendations?’” Delgado said. “Well the committee didn’t make recommendations, the committee tried to dictate who we select, and that’s not appropriate.”

He said he was in disbelief that the committee failed to recognize the merits of other applicants, such as Ben Miller, a founding partner of law firm Kean Miller; Paul West, a former Rotary Club president, former president of the Shaw Center and former Baton Rouge Area Foundation board member and Kyle Ardoin, the first assistant secretary of state.

Councilman Buddy Amoroso, who sponsored the resolution to create the committee and criteria also said he was disappointed.

He said “one of the recommendations is very strong, the other is rather weak.”

Amoroso said he also expected the committee to denote the specific qualifications of the applicants.

Amoroso said he was appreciative that the committee put all of the interviews with the candidates on YouTube.

He said ultimately he’ll base his decision on the interviews he’s watched and the résumés submitted.

Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel said she had no problem with the process because she knows they are just recommendations.

“I’m OK with the way they’re doing it especially in this case where we have 26 or 27 applicants with more coming in every day,” she said. “Quite frankly, I have not watched 26 interviews.”

Banks-Daniel said Tuesday she is leaning toward other candidates based on her own assessment, mentioning Antoinette Pierre, a former employee at the Louisiana Department of Education and former Delmont Elementary principal and Troy Watson, a Baker School Board member.

The citizens committee is made up of appointees from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Louisiana Engineering Society, LSU, Southern University, Baton Rouge Community College, Together Baton Rouge, AARP, Society of Louisiana CPAs, Baton Rouge area hospitals, Center for Planning Excellence and the Baton Rouge Bar Association.

The resolution to appoint the committee and set desired criteria for members was the result of fall out from the embattled CATS board which has been inundated with controversy and infighting in recent months.

Four of the nine board members have resigned since July, one of whom was arrested on suspicion of using CATS money to pay his personal bills.

The criteria for board members recommends, but does not mandate, that three members should be an engineer or a professional in a related field with 10 years of management experience, three members should have at least a baccalaureate degree and seven years of management experience, and three members should have backgrounds that include being CATS riders, leaders from organizations that have an interest in transit or be executives of nonprofits or human service organizations.

Edgar Cage, committee chairman, said the committee recommended the two strongest candidates, while taking into consideration the Metro Council’s desire to appoint a representative from Baker.

He added that the process is a work in progress, and if the Metro Council wants additional information they will make adjustments as they move forward.

“But based on the interviews and resumes and what we saw as far as qualifications needed from both resolutions, these are the two we felt at this time were considered the strongest recommendations for being on the board,” Cage said.

Only two vacancies will be filled at the Wednesday meeting. The other two will be filled at the Nov. 13 and Nov. 26 meeting, respectively.

All candidates not selected this Wednesday will need to reapply for consideration of the other seats.