A finalist recommended for a seat on the Capital Area Transit System’s governing board withdrew his name from consideration Wednesday after information surfaced about a prior criminal conviction.
William Johnson, a Baker resident, pleaded guilty in March 2009 to attempted felony theft in a scheme involving fundraising for a children’s drug education program.
He withdrew his name from consideration for the CATS board appointment shortly before a Metro Council meeting Wednesday, where he had been expected to be appointed.
Johnson was a finalist at the Oct. 9 Metro Council meeting out of 27 candidates.
The council deadlocked between Johnson and another candidate, Paul West, and deferred making an appointment to Wednesday’s meeting.
The CATS board vacancy was left by Montrell McCaleb who resigned in July after it was revealed he was using agency money to pay his personal bills.
He was later arrested in September on theft and access device charges.
Three other CATS board members resigned in the months that followed, and the new appointments have widely been perceived as an opportunity to breathe fresh air into the widely criticized transit board, which oversees the parish’s bus system.
Johnson was one of two initial recommendations from a committee of stakeholders formed to vet candidates and recommend their top choices to the Metro Council.
Earlier this week, three Baker City Council members wrote an email to the Metro Council, recommending Johnson for the CATS Board.
The email was sent under the names of Baker Council President Joyce Burges and council members Robert Young and John Givens.
The Metro Council previously passed a resolution expressing its intent to appoint a Baker resident to the CATS board since a majority there voted in favor of a bus tax in 2012.
In 2006, a grand jury charged Johnson and three others with theft and conspiracy charges.
They had been arrested in May of that year after Zachary business owners complained of receiving several calls from people soliciting funds for DARE programs. DARE is taught by police officers to children about the dangers of drug and alcohol.
The men were soliciting donations under the name Metro Magnolia Peace Officer’s Association, but the governing board of the association knew nothing about the solicitation.
Johnson pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted felony theft in March 2009. He was sentenced to a year in prison with credit for time served and was released on unsupervised probation for one year with a requirement that he make restitution to the victims in the amount of $3,000, records show.
“It shows a breakdown in the vetting process when something like this slips through the cracks,” said Metro Council John Delgado, who said he had planned to vote for Johnson before learning the information.
Rachel DiResto, executive vice president for the Center for Planning Excellence and a member of the vetting committee, said it was not the committe’s responsibility to perform criminal background checks for CATS applicants.
But she said the information about the theft would have likely impacted their decision to recommend Johnson.
Johnson, a retired Zachary police officer, could not be reached for comment. There was no answer at a home phone listing for him.
The Metro Council appointed a different Baker resident, Linda Perkins, to the CATS Board. She is a member of the parish Democratic Party Executive Committee, which was an issue for at least one council member.
Councilman Ryan Heck said he was disappointed his colleagues didn’t see a problem with inserting a political partisan to the CATS board.
“It would conversely be inappropriate to put someone form the (Republican Parish Executive Committee) on the board,” he said. “We need proven business professionals on the CATS board. Period.”
There are two more vacancies that will be filled on the CATS board next month. At the last meeting, the CATS board appointed Ben Miller, a co-founder of the Kean Miller law firm, to the CATS board.