The Baton Rouge Metro Council’s recent decision to raise standards for those who serve on the city’s mass transit board seems like a largely symbolic gesture. The measure has few real teeth, and it still depends on council members doing the right thing because they want to, not because they have to.
Anyone who watches the council on a regular basis will see that such optimism hasn’t always been rewarded by experience.
Recent remarks by a couple of council members are a good case in point.
Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle questioned why better qualifications for members of the Capital Area Transit System board are needed in the first place. “I don’t see why there’s urgency,” Marcelle said. “I don’t think CATS is on fire.”
Marcelle’s failure to see the urgency of reforming CATS represents a stunning blindness to the agency’s problems. Three of its board members recently resigned under fire. Montrell McCaleb left the board after being accused of using CATS funds to pay his personal bills. Isaiah Marshall, who served as board chairman, also resigned amid several complaints related to his stewardship of CATS, including his slowness in making public McCaleb’s alleged misuse of funds. Board member Jared Loftus resigned this week, citing frustration with the board’s recent lapses.
The agency has an interim chief executive officer, and its chief financial officer resigned amid questions regarding thousands of dollars in missing fare box money for CATS buses. Voters who approved a tax last year to fund CATS have every right to be concerned.
But Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel, echoing Marcelle’s nonchalance about CATS’ problems, called it “propaganda” that “people have lost confidence in CATS.” This is the kind of deaf ear to the CATS crisis that helped land the agency in its present predicament.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, who sits on the CATS board, said recent attacks on the CATS board based on the actions of a few members were offensive. We agree with Collins-Lewis that not everyone on the CATS board has acted improperly. But the real offense has not been visited on the board, but on the taxpayers who have been forced to fund such a troubled agency.
Marcelle, Banks-Daniel and Collins-Lewis questioned a proposal by Councilman Buddy Amoroso to set better standards for candidates to serve on the CATS board. The criteria proposed by Amoroso are aimed at getting board members with better management experience and involvement with mass transit issues. Under Amoroso’s proposal, a citizens committee would screen applicants to determine whether they meet the criteria.
But the Metro Council isn’t required to vote for candidates who meet the criteria. Council members can presumably ignore the criteria if they’re willing to ignore any public criticism that might result.
The council passed Amoroso’s proposal.
Now, it’s up to council members to take the criteria for CATS board members seriously.
The comments by Marcelle, Banks-Daniel and Collins-Lewis don’t give us much confidence that this will happen.