Our Views: CATS needs legal probe

The investigation into misuse of funds at the Capital Area Transit System calls for a thorough inquiry by the office of East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III and other authorities.

Financial documents obtained by The Advocate indicate that Montrell McCaleb, who served on the CATS governing board, used $1,484 of public bus system funds to pay his phone and satellite TV bills. McCaleb denied misusing the funds, but he resigned as the financial documents came to light, citing health reasons.

The news of these financial irregularities couldn’t come at a worse time for CATS, which has been embroiled in a series of recent controversies involving how it handled the selection process for an interim chief executive officer and a private management firm. But the prospect of financial improprieties at CATS raises our concern to a much-higher level.

We’re encouraged that the misspending in question seems to have been detected internally by CATS staffers. We’re also heartened by interim Chief Executive Officer Robert Mirabito’s pledge to ask the district attorney, the Board of Ethics and the Louisiana legislative auditor to review CATS’ financial records. Mirabito started his job at CATS a month ago, and the financial irregularities uncovered so far appear to have occurred between February and May.

Even so, we must wonder why these irregularities weren’t reported to authorities sooner.

CATS officials need to be transparent with the public about how they’re handling this latest problem. In recent weeks, the CATS board has too often greeted public controversy with reticence and stonewalling. But the public deserves nothing less than a clear accounting of how CATS dollars have been used — or misused — and what steps are being taken to prevent future abuses.