CATS board considers seeking outside help

Members of the parish bus system’s board of directors indicated Thursday that they are leaning toward hiring an outside firm to temporarily assist in the agency’s growth, but would not favor replacing the system’s current staff with outsourced managers.

TMG Consulting, which evaluated the agency’s management in a report delivered last month, recommended replacing the Capital Area Transit System’s management with contracted managers from a transit management firm.

The CATS board of directors took no action Thursday but said they planned to make some moves in two weeks at another meeting scheduled to address the management question. At that meeting, CATS staff and management will be asked to respond to recommendations.

The newest board member Ryan Heck, who is a member of the Metro Council, questioned the board and the management team over the perceived lack of a plan outlining how the bus system staff expects to reach service goals promised in the 2012 tax election.

“Now what I haven’t seen, as a Metro Council member, a board member and a taxpayer, is how we’re going to achieve those goals — the implementation plan,” Heck said. “I pay $400 a year for a bus that I don’t ride.”

Heck said he wanted to see cash flow statements, schedules of purchase orders and cost analyses for planned purchases.

Heck also criticized CATS newest app, Route Shout, which management has recently touted for providing
real-time GPS mapping of buses.

Several board members and Chief Executive Officer Brian Marshall took offense to Heck’s statements and argued that there was a plan.

“The biggest misconception you continue to spout every time you speak is that it appears that this board woke up one day and said we’re going to go after this tax,” said board member Isaiah Marshall, no relation to Brian Marshall. “It just amazes me how inept folks think we are when you make those statements. There was a thought process that went into all of this.”

Brian Marshall argued that CATS has developed working plans, like proposed route map changes, and said the tax was crafted based on a business plan that was compiled by Together Baton Rouge and the mayor’s appointed Blue Ribbon Commission two years ago.

“The fact is there’s so many documents, so many pieces of paper, but we’re forgetting the fact that CATS is delivering,” Brian Marshall said, adding that the Blue Ribbon Commission widely publicized the proposed tax plan.

David Aguillard, executive director of Catholic Charities, who was a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission and who attended Thursday’s meeting, said the commission’s recommendations formed the foundation of CATS 10.6-mill tax proposal. Aguillard said in an interview that the commission produced “goals and objectives,” not a business plan.

Aguillard also said he questions CATS implementation of the goals in the tax plan.

“One thing I’d like to see is an organizational structure,” Aguillard said. “What does CATS look like today? What are they going to look like next year? What’s the plan? They need to take action or they’re going to lose the unique support of the advocacy and business community that came together for them.”

Some board members said the management changes that have been discussed in recent weeks were part of the implementation plan.

The six out of eight members of the CATS board who attended Thursday’s meeting informally agreed to the concept of adding additional help, via a “strike team” that would help the agency through its expansion until it reaches its service goals in 2014.

Board member Dalton Honore II made the suggestion, saying he’d like to see a firm provide a project manager who would answer to the CEO — “whoever that is.”

“They are short term. They are not long term. I don’t see a need to bring in new employees for this,” Honore said.

Board member Deborah Roe said she agreed in concept but wanted more input from the staff. She said she was disappointed in the staff for not being more vocal in the process and not properly communicating their plans to the board.

“Brian (Marshall), we have received no information from you, which I find kind of odd, given the situation,” Roe said. “I would expect you to be all over this, giving us information.”

Brian Marshall grew emotional for the first time in public the subject of possible management changes.

“We don’t want to be distracted by these things and this is what it felt like — a distraction,” Brian Marshall said. “What I hope will happen today is that we’ll get a position on this one way or another, because you should come into my office and feel the sentiment of every staff person who says, ‘When am I going to be replaced? When are you going to be replaced?’ It’s not an easy environment.”