Loftus resigns from CATS, claims board ineffective

by Rebekah Allen
The Advocate, Aug 23, 2013

RELATED DOCUMENT: Resignation Letter

Jared Loftus resigned from the Capital Area Transit System board Thursday, submitting a scathing resignation letter calling some of his fellow CATS board members inept and unethical.

Loftus was appointed to the board four years ago, and last year served as the board’s spokesman as it promoted the 10.6-mill property tax needed to expand and improve bus service in the parish.

In his letter of resignation, submitted to Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, Loftus said he has grown disappointed by some of his colleague’s behavior and has “lost all confidence in this Board’s ability to do the right thing.”

“It has become abundantly clear that for some, the CATS Board is not an opportunity for service, but a platform for selfish behavior and political posturing,” he wrote.

Loftus’s resignation is the third from the nine-member board in less than two months, following Montrell McCaleb and Isaiah Marshall last month. Board members serve as volunteers, without compensation.

CATS also lost Chief Financial Officer Gary Owens this week and former CEO Brian Marshall in April, marking several top level leadership changes in a short period of time.

Loftus said examples of the board’s missteps included ignoring expert recommendations to contract a management team and then stalling to hold the former CEO “accountable for his poorly written and untimely implementation plan.”

The implementation plan was expected to outline how CATS would move forward with its service changes.

“Months later, the Board begrudgingly issued a (Request for Proposals) seeking a project manager, only to skirt the RFP processes for the sake of advancing a separate agenda,” he wrote.

A consulting firm, TMG Consulting, recommended in January the agency outsource some of its management positions to a private transportation firm. The consultant said CATS lacked the expertise necessary to implement the proposed service changes.

The recommendation led to a rift on the board, with some members trying to protect the former CEO and his staff and others wanting to follow the consultant’s recommendations.

The board ultimately decided to go with a temporary project manager who would oversee the expansion and service changes. However, Brian Marshall resigned in April, after months of public pressure from critics complaining that service changes were lagging.

The initial RFP for choosing a program manager became contentious after questions arose whether the process was tainted by the board to favor one applicant over the others. The process was restarted and interim CEO Bob Mirabito has expanded the contract’s scope to include more administrative functions.

In his letter, Loftus also criticizes the board for more recent controversies surrounding McCaleb, who is accused of wiring money from CATS to pay his personal bills.

“What’s even worse than the ineptitude and closed mindedness displayed over the years is the unethical behavior of some of my colleagues on the Board,” Loftus wrote.

He continued, “While I was shocked to personally discover the criminal activities of a fellow board member, I was appalled to discover the blatant and well documented attempts to keep it from the public.”

Loftus’ resignation comes two days after a rocky CATS board meeting where he went head to head with Honoré exchanging accusations of mismanagement.

Loftus accused Honoré of subverting the agency’s standard processes to award a $4,200 a month information technology contract without board approval.

In his resignation letter, Loftus encouraged his colleagues on the CATS board to also step down for the good of the system.

“Riddled in controversy, it will be impossible for the Board to move forward ‘as-is’ and thereby impossible to give the people of Baton Rouge the public system they want and deserve,” he said.

Loftus said Baton Rouge can move forward but “we must first purge those with self-serving agendas and replace them with true public servants who have a deep desire to make our City better.”

Honoré said he didn’t take issue with Loftus’s accusations in the letter, calling them “comments of exhaustion.”

While Honoré said he couldn’t say he was disappointed by Loftus’s decision to leave, he acknowledged Loftus’s passion and dedication to make the system better.

“I hope that he continues to push for change for transit and continues to assist us in moving forward, maybe in a different venue,” Honoré said.

Board member Ryan Heck, who also serves on the Metro Council, said he hopes to see Loftus on other boards in the future where he can make a positive difference.

“In December, Jared Loftus’s name was a dirty word in my house,” Heck said, referring to Loftus’s work promoting the CATS tax. “But after joining the board in January I realized my initial perception was incorrect and he’s an incredibly honest guy who I’ve worked with for many hours trying to remove the corrupt regime at CATS.”

Marston Fowler, the new board president for CATS, said Loftus should be recognized for his efforts in securing the CATS tax. But Fowler said he disagrees with Loftus’ call for other board members to resign.

“It’s not an unfair assessment that things are so dysfunctional,” he said. “But where we are today, the staff is moving forward and doing a great job, and the board is fighting old battles, and we need to refocus on supporting the company.”

Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe called Loftus an asset to the board, but said he is hopeful now that CATS staff can refocus on improving the bus system.

Loupe had placed an item on Wednesday’s Metro Council agenda to remove Honoré from the CATS board but said he will delete his item to avoid further distractions.

However he said he still believes Honoré should voluntarily resign.

“I would hope Mr. Honoré realizes the mistakes he made, and does the right thing,” Loupe said.