Some CATS riders pessimistic about CEO search process

Some CATS riders pessimistic about CEO search process
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POSTED: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 - 4:00am

UPDATED: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 - 4:04am

While the CATS board searches for its next leader, many riders say they do not care who is chosen as interim CEO.

Riders, as well as the media, were kept out of most of Tuesday's interviews of the two finalists, Robert Mirabito and John Conroy.

To Floyd Norman, the secretive nature of the search process represents the general lack of accountability from the transit agency's leadership.

"They just go in the office and say what they're gonna do, and they ain't gonna do it," Norman stated. "Right? The last one didn't do it; the other one ain't gonna do it."

Former CEO Brian Marshall resigned in April. Board member Dalton Honore and CFO Gary Owens are running the agency while it looks for an interim CEO. A permanent chief executive will likely be hired by the beginning of 2014.

Conroy and Mirabito each spent roughly 45 minutes with the committee, talking about their credentials and ideas.

Conroy has spent most of his career in health care, and said his entrepreneurial background is what CATS needs.

"What was done in the past, they did a great job," he said of the agency's previous leadership. "They kept it going, and that was critical, to maintain a transit system for Baton Rouge, absolutely essential. But it takes a whole 'nother skill set to move an organization from existing on a $5 million budget to a $25 million organization."

Mirabito comes from the information technology sector, and said his leadership style would make him a good fit.

"One of the things that I'm very good at is people management," he told the search committee. "I'm a consensus-builder, I lead by example, and I believe in participatory management."

CATS board chairman Isaiah Marshall, no relation to Brian Marshall, said he believed either candidate would make for a good CEO. Which one eventually wins the job will be the result of a personal preference among the board members.

"Both are good business candidates," Isaiah Marshall mentioned. "I think there's a little difference in the personalities and their approach, as it relates to how they communicate." 

One thing neither Conroy nor Mirabito have is experience working for a transit authority. Marshall claimed that neither he nor the other board members were concerned about that.

"In this interim, because there's going to be so much change going on, what CATS needs is someone who can manage change and help us to get where we need to be," Marshall said. "Because we're going to bring on expertise as it relates to transportation. We need a change manager, and that's truly what we need in the interim CEO position right now."

Another reason Marshall cited for hiring a candidate without transit experience is that the board will also hire a program manager, who will focus on the details of CATS' strategic plan while the CEO handles contract negotiations, customer service, and day-to-day operations. Marshall said the program manager is likely to be hired by the middle of July. 

For riders like Norman, there is little the interim CEO could do to improve their experience. Other riders do not care who gets the job, so long as the bus system continues to get them to their destination on time. But Angela Dunaway is among the group who sees an opportunity for a strong leader to speed up an improvement process she has witnessed over the last couple years.

"They need to choose somebody who is gonna be sturdy," she said. "Somebody who's not gonna be afraid to speak what's on their mind." She added that the interim CEO should spend as much time addressing the needs of his employees as he does those of the ridership.

Norman believes that the less the interim CEO says, the better. He bases that on a history of unfulfilled promises.

"They come out here and smile and say they gonna do this, and do that," he noted. "And they ain't gonna do it."

Much of Norman's frustration stems from the tax approved by voters in Baton Rouge and Baker in 2012. He expected the impact of those tax dollars to be more visible, more than a year later 

"You want somebody to vote for it, vote for the tax, okay, vote for the tax," he said. "Where the changes at? Ain't no changes."

Both Mirabito and Conroy agreed that increasing CATS' funding was the right decision for the region, and they want to see the agency follow through on its desire to increase coverage, ease of use, and reliability.

"Where we want to go is very much needed in this community," Conroy said. "The taxpayers bought into it, we need to deliver it."

The search committee will meet again Wednesday to make its recommendation. That choice will then go before the full board next week for a vote next week.

CATS has not begun the national search it promised for a permanent CEO. Marshall said that would likely begin in July or August, and that the interim CEO could be a candidate.

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