Our Views: Better way for nominees

It’s good news that Jim Brandt is a new appointment on the board of the Capital Area Transit System. Brandt, the former head of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana and before that the Bureau of Governmental Research in New Orleans, is an advocate of openness in government, something the CATS operation needs to restore its somewhat tarnished credibility.

Turns out he actually has experience with transit, having worked on transportation issues for the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans. Who knew? That nugget was turned up in the appointment process conducted by the Metro Council.

At the urging of groups such as Together Baton Rouge, an interfaith group, and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, a vetting process that focused on qualifications for new board appointees put information about the potential board nominees online, before the Metro Council voted on the nominations.

In the past, the board nominees might have included appointees with relevant experience, but perhaps not. In fact, political connections probably had at least as much to do with the appointments, and in the case of CATS that led to trouble: Once the voters approved a dedicated tax for the ramshackle agency, problems of mismanagement in the past came to light and the board’s decision-making crumbled under the strain. There was a raft of bad press and several board resignations.

The vetting process for new CATS nominees wasn’t perfect at first; the panel of interviewers didn’t ask about prior criminal records, and one nominee was found to have a felony in his past. He wasn’t appointed, fortunately.

Nevertheless, the result overall has been a better slate of nominees for board positions. The system ought to be studied in other cities to determine if it can be a model for local governments.

In Baton Rouge’s specific case, the Metro Council is not required by law to appoint qualified board members. But when the board nominees are vetted by a committee — including representatives of a number of major institutions in the community, it becomes politically more difficult to get a majority of the council for a brother-in-law deal.

That’s a positive change in the old system.