CATS board tables action on CEO contract

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS Capital Area Transit System Chief Executive Officer Marshall discusses a CATS customer complaint as board attorney Wendell Lindsay, right, listens. A decision on Marshall's contract as CEO was deferred during a regularly-scheduled Capital Area Transit System meeting Tuesday. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS Capital Area Transit System Chief Executive Officer Marshall discusses a CATS customer complaint as board attorney Wendell Lindsay, right, listens. A decision on Marshall's contract as CEO was deferred during a regularly-scheduled Capital Area Transit System meeting Tuesday.

“Now is the time we need to take action. No action is a vote of no confidence in that CEO.” Ryan Heck, CATS board member

The chief executive officer of the East Baton Rouge Parish bus system has been working on a month-to-month basis for 15 months in lieu of a renewed contract, which some board members of the Capital Area Transit System said could impair the bus system’s ability to move forward.

The board voted narrowly Tuesday to table action on the CEO contract. The board could have renewed his contract or terminated him, but inaction ensures that CEO Brian Marshall continues to work month to month until the board decides to vote otherwise.

After the meeting, two board members — Jared Loftus and Ryan Heck — said Marshall is looking for other jobs, which is a side effect of not approving a contract.

“What we have here is a CEO looking for other job opportunities and that’s what happens when you have a man with a month-to-month contract,” Loftus said.

Marshall signed a two-year contract to lead CATS in November 2009. The contract ended in 2011, at which point his contract states the board and Marshall could extend the contract for three additional years.

Loftus said neither the board nor Marshall had ever pushed for a discussion on extending the contract, which is why it has gone unrenewed for so long.

“Now is the time we need to take action,” said Heck, who is also a member of the Metro Council. “No action is a vote of no confidence in that CEO.”

Heck, Loftus and board member Marston Fowler voted against tabling action on the contract. None of them would say what action they were prepared to take regarding Marshall’s contract.

“It’s time for us to make a decision, in my opinion, about where we’re going to go from a leadership perspective,” Fowler said. “It’s time to make some long-term plans.”

Asked after the meeting if he was job hunting, Marshall said he wouldn’t confirm the report but said, “I have gotten a number of job offers and my commitment has always been to Baton Rouge. That’s where I am right now, and that’s where I plan to be.”

He declined further comment on his contract.

Those voting to table action on the CEO contract Tuesday were board members Isaiah Marshall, who was elected to chair the CATS board Tuesday, Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, Dalton Honoré II, Deborah Roe and Montrell McCaleb.

Isaiah Marshall, no relation to Brian Marshall, stressed that the CEO has not pushed the issue to get his contract renewed.

“Mr. (Brian) Marshall is working month to month and he’s still being able to do his job,” Isaiah Marshall said. “So it’s my position, and the position of some of the others, to continue with the month to month until we can make sure where we’re going and have all the conversations that are going on.”

McCaleb said he wouldn’t comment on his vote to defer, but added that he “has full confidence in Brian Marshall.”

Collins-Lewis noted that regardless of the contract, the CEO always serves at the pleasure of the board.

“We’re just at that stage right now where we’re in the planning process and trying to get everything done, and we’re just going to gauge where we are month to month at this point,” she said.

Speculation about CATS management changes has swirled for weeks, since the board received a report from TMG Consulting, that recommended CATS outsource management positions to better position itself for planned service changes and expansions.

Members of the board have been meeting weekly to discuss how to move forward with management changes, with some members expressing skepticism over the TMG report. At a recent meeting board members discussed bringing in a temporary team of outsiders to help the system get through its transition period. No votes or recommendations have yet been made.

Last week, the CATS board wrapped up its annual evaluation of Brian Marshall, but board members would not offer any details about the performance review.

Edgar Cage, a leader with Together Baton Rouge, a faith-based nonprofit that took an active role in helping CATS pass its property tax last year, said the board is being divided by politics at the expense of progress.

He said their inaction on the CEO contract is indicative of their division.

“It sends a message of how the board isn’t on the same page about their direction of where CATS should be going and who should be leading,” Cage said. “That’s why everything seems to be in limbo. Stop the politics and start concentrating on delivering service.”