The Capital Area Transit System on Tuesday granted the parish bus system’s leader a 19 percent pay raise, making him one of the highest-paid public officials in the city.
CATS Chief Executive Officer Bob Mirabito will now earn a base salary of $175,000 a year — higher than the salaries of both the mayor and police chief — under the terms of a new three-year contract, which goes into effect May 1. Mirabito, who has led CATS through a controversial and tumultuous past year-and-a-half, has been paid $147,000 a year.
CATS board members entered an executive session Tuesday to privately discuss Mirabito’s performance before voting unanimously to accept the contract with the pay raise. They did not discuss the matter in public.
Mirabito said after the meeting his new contract will give CATS needed stability for the next three years.
While board members have often applauded Mirabito, he has come under fire from Metro Council members and union leaders who have criticized his management style and the performance of the bus system. Before Tuesday’s vote, union leader Naomi Guy asked the board to delay the matter for a month so the union members could weigh in on the contract.
Earlier in the day, Metro Council member C. Denise Marcelle — who in the past has called for Mirabito’s resignation — sent a letter to the CATS board asking them to reject the new contract.
“The citizens of Baton Rouge did not invest in increasing the pay of CATS administration,” Marcelle wrote in reference to the 2012 tax voters approved to improve the bus system. “The dollars should be spent on the ground to improve services that are constantly being reported as insufficient and not to increase administration pay.”
Visit Baton Rouge CEO Paul Arrigo is paid $163,000 a year. Police Chief Carl Dabadie is paid $160,000 a year, and Mayor-President Kip Holden’s salary is $146,000 a year.
Library Director Spencer Watts is paid about $100,200 a year, and East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission Superintendent Carolyn McKnight has a $157,000 annual salary.
CATS Board President Donna Collins-Lewis defended Mirabito’s new salary, saying they compared his pay range to other leaders in the transit industry rather than other public officials in the city. Mirabito agreed.
“We’re in line with what CEOs get paid in public transit,” Mirabito said.
As for the lack of comments from the board, Collins-Lewis said she could not speak on behalf of its members but they had been examining the pay scale for a long time and were prepared to vote.
Board member Deborah Roe would not explain her decision to approve Mirabito’s contract, saying “we don’t talk to the press.”
Mirabito’s base salary could continue to increase up to 5 percent a year depending on performance evaluations. In addition to the higher base salary, the three-year contract will give Mirabito an extra $700 a month — $8,400 per year — for out-of-pocket expenses for employee benefits like health insurance and a retirement plan.
He will receive $60 a month for a cell phone, but no travel reimbursements unless he is outside of East Baton Rouge.
Mirabito could earn an extra $12,500 performance bonus after the first year of the new contract if the board comes up with metrics for extra incentive-based compensation.
He said CATS will continue to try to add new buses, improve its on-time performance and add to customer satisfaction.
“We’re going to continue focusing on what customers want,” Mirabito said.
Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.