No national search, Mirabito to be new CATS CEO

The interim leader of the Baton Rouge bus system for the past five-and-a-half months is expected to be named the permanent CEO next week.

Businessman Bob Mirabito, who has no previous transit experience, has a tentative agreement with the Capital Area Transit System Board of Directors to continue with the agency for at least another year, CATS board President Marston Fowler said Tuesday.

Fowler said he has negotiated a contract with Mirabito, which will be recommended to a committee on Thursday and then submitted to the full board for approval at its Nov. 19 board meeting.

The contract names Mirabito permanent CEO for 13 months beginning Dec. 1 and ending Dec. 31, 2014. The board must decide by Sept. 30, 2014, whether it wishes to renew Mirabito’s contract. If it takes no action, the contract will automatically be renewed for another year. The board can also choose at that time to end its relationship with Mirabito.

“What we’ve agreed to will provide stability to the organization in the near term, and will provide Bob with stability to his family,” Fowler said. “But it also provides the opportunity for the board to evaluate implementation of the 2014 changes and get out of the contract after a year.”

Fowler said he has faith in Mirabito and did not expect the board to end its contract with him next year.

The decision to name Mirabito CEO is a departure from the initial plan to hire an interim CEO for six to eight months while the board engaged in a national search for a permanent, top-tier CEO.

But the board never started a national search, and Fowler said that moving forward “the board, generally speaking, as a body is not anxious to do a national search.”

He noted that the CATS board has two vacancies, and at least two board seats — his included — expire next year, so a new CATS board could decide in September to hold a national search.

But he said Mirabito has had a strong performance amid some of the most tumultuous months the agency has experienced. After Mirabito was hired, CATS was inundated with controversies ranging from missing fare box money to a board member who was arrested for using agency funds for his personal bills.

“Bob applied for a job when not that many people wanted it, and he has worked tirelessly to improve the organization,” Fowler said. “He was dealt a bad hand. He was hired in May, and all this stuff happened, but he’s provided the stable, steady leadership that we’re looking for.”

Under the proposed contract, Mirabito will earn $140,000 a year, an increase from his current contract of $126,000. Mirabito will also have a $700 a month car allowance.

Mirabito has been interviewing for other jobs nationwide, and Fowler said the promotion to permanently name him CEO ensures CATS will retain him.

Mirabito said he deserves the opportunity because he’s already moving the agency in the right direction.

“There’s a change inside the agency, which I think is beginning to show when it comes to our focus on the customer, our focus on improving the system and being transparent, which hasn’t been done in the past,” Mirabito said.

He noted that under his watch, the Metro Council approved the new bus route maps and schedules, which will be implemented next year, and the contract to hire a program manager will soon be awarded.

“Those are the things that I’m proud of,” he said.

Mirabito said his lack of a transit background shouldn’t be viewed as a weakness.

“As a CEO you need to have strong business skills and surround yourself with a team of experts, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said, noting that the new program management contract will also fill a Chief Operating Officer position. “What I’m going to do is provide a vision, provide direction and that’s what a good CEO does.”