Baker wants seat on bus system’s board

Baker officials say it’s about time that their city’s interests are represented on the parish bus system’s board of directors.

And now that the Capital Area Transit System has two vacancies to fill as a result of recent resignations, some see it as a perfect opportunity to put a Baker resident on the board.

Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel is asking the council to give special consideration to appointing a Baker resident to the CATS board. The request is in the form of a resolution that will be voted on at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Banks-Daniel, who represents a large part of Baker, said she thinks one seat should be reserved for a Baker resident. But she said she can’t sponsor an ordinance mandating a change because the board’s make-up is set by the state Legislature.

“It’s very important that someone from Baker is on the board to say, ‘These are our needs and these were your commitments,’ ” Banks-Daniel said. “The residents are absolutely passionate about making sure that the tax revenue will be available to expand their bus services.”

In April 2012, the cities of Baker and Baton Rouge approved a 10.6-mill property tax to support, expand and improve the bare-bones bus system.

Baker Mayor Harold Rideau said public transportation is important to the city because many people can’t afford a car.

Baker residents, he said, are still waiting to see service improvements and feel like they’ve been left out of many of the conversations about CATS’ future.

“We need to know what’s going on and have someone bring the information back to the citizens of Baker and tell us what the future plans are,” Rideau said.

Baker Councilman Pete Heine said it’s frustrating to see that a year after Baker approved the tax and Zachary residents voted against the tax, Zachary receives the same level of service.

“It’s very unfair that we have to pay and they do not,” Heine said. “If they want to use it, they could compensate Baker or compensate CATS to at least pay their fair share. That makes good sense to me.”

Interim CATS Chief Executive Officer Bob Mirabito said CATS has some plans in the works for Baker, including erecting two new bus shelters by the end of September.

Once new routes are determined, Mirabito said, he expects services to be increased in Baker. He said the improvements could include a limited-stop route from Baker to Baton Rouge and a circulator route that will circle Baker.

Mirabito said he also expects service in Zachary will eventually stop. All route changes, however, are subject to Metro Council approval.

Mirabito said he has scheduled a meeting with the Baker mayor and has agreed to a town hall meeting with Banks-Daniel and Baker officials at 6 p.m. Aug. 26 at the Baker Municipal Center.

Two CATS board members resigned last month, creating vacancies on the board.

Montrell McCaleb resigned after The Advocate obtained records showing that CATS funds had been used to pay his cellphone and satellite TV bills. McCaleb has maintained that he did nothing wrong.

CATS board President Isaiah Marshall resigned in the weeks that followed, after local transit advocates and elected officials criticized his handling of McCaleb’s alleged misuse of funds. He also came under fire because of a contract selection process that was criticized as unfair and atypical of regular procedure.

Marshall said intense media scrutiny prompted his decision to resign.

Marshall and McCaleb’s resignation letters were officially submitted to the city-parish on July 30. The vacancies must be advertised for at least 60 days after the letters are accepted, before new board members can be appointed.

To date, five people have applied. The applicants include one man from Baker, Carl Spears, whose ré sumé says his work experience includes Statewide USA, a roofing company.

The others who have applied are: Antoinette Pierre, a local educator and a former principal of Delmont Elementary; Telita Hayes-Colbert, a state administrator for the Department of Children and Family Services; Armetia Felix, a U.S. Post Office manager from Zachary; and Cassie Felder, a tax and real estate lawyer who was a member of the mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission that studied transit problems in the city and developed recommendations that paved the way for the CATS tax plan.