Baton Rouge Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle’s ascension to the Louisiana House means there will be a vacancy on the Metro Council to be filled by a vote of the council members rather than a vote of people living in the district.
Marcelle announced at a public meeting this week that she’d like the council to appoint Isaiah Marshall, a local businessman and a District 7 constituent. He led the board of the parish bus system during some of its most tumultuous months, ending in several council members calling for his resignation.
According to the Plan of Government, the decision to appoint Marcelle’s replacement is entirely up to the remaining Metro Council, and the appointment can’t occur until after Marcelle leaves office Jan. 11 when she is sworn into the Legislature. It must take place within 20 days of her absence.
But traditionally, when council members have left office before the end of their term, the remaining council members have honored the exiting council member’s recommendation.
Several council members said they plan to honor the tradition and accept Marcelle’s recommendation for her replacement, even though many of them were angrily calling for Marshall’s resignation from the Capital Area Transit System board only 21/2 years ago.
If Marshall is appointed, he’d serve almost a full year. The full Metro Council is up for re-election in November 2016. Since there’s less than a year between when Marcelle steps down and when the next election takes place, there will be no special election and the appointed representative will serve for the remainder of the year.
Marshall served on the CATS board during a chaotic period, starting with a series of budget shortfalls that nearly shuttered the agency and into an aggressive campaign to pass a tax to improve bus service.
But it wasn’t until the tax passed that things got especially difficult for Marshall. He served as chair when one board member was revealed by The Advocate to be stealing money from the agency to pay his personal bills.
According to emails obtained by The Advocate, Marshall knew about McCaleb’s transgressions two months before police were notified and only after The Advocate reported the theft. Emails also showed the CATS attorney offered to draft notices for CATS to send to law enforcement, but Marshall instructed him not to do it.
Marshall never informed the full board and no complaints about the theft were filed with police until after the news media reported McCaleb’s improper use of funds.
Some of the council members took strong stances against Marshall and other members of the CATS board. Chandler Loupe, in particular, led a charge to remove Marshall, placing an item on the council agenda calling for his removal for “neglect of duty and/or misconduct in office.” Buddy Amoroso similarly called for the resignations of the entire board at the time.
“I believe clearly that we would still not have known about the theft of funds but for the media calling board members to inquire about the missing funds,” Loupe said then.
Calls for Marshall’s resignation were echoed by transit advocacy groups and Mayor-President Kip Holden, who publicly questioned Mashall’s initial resistance to resigning.
Ultimately, Marshall resigned in July 2013.
He said his presence on the board had become a distraction to CATS because of scrutiny by the media.
Marshall, 42, said in an interview Wednesday that he is no stranger to adversity in his life, and experiences such as his time with CATS have only made him a stronger, wiser leader.
“I have always been called to overcome any obstacles I’ve been able to face, and learn from them each and every day,” he said. “I’ve learned how to be a better individual and a better leader from everything I’ve experienced in life.”
Marcelle said she chose Marshall to fill the remaining year of her term because civic leaders and ministers in her district recommended him. Marshall previously ran for the seat against Marcelle in 2008 and came in third to her and Byron Sharper.
Loupe said he would support Marcelle’s decision, despite his push in 2013 to remove him from the CATS board.
“I was firm in my belief that he made a mistake, and we certainly all make mistakes,” Loupe said. “But I would defer to Councilwoman Marcelle’s nomination.”
Amoroso said he planned to meet with Marshall later this week.
“The CATS situation was a bad situation but I don’t put 100 percent of the blame on him, I’m open minded,” Amoroso said. “It’s been a tradition that the council has honored the council member who has gone to a higher office, and I very much believe in traditions.”
Many of the women on the council supported Marshall throughout the calls for his resignation.
Chauna Banks-Daniel said this week that Marshall would be a “great addition to the council.”
“I admired the way he handled the controversy regarding CATS,” she said in an email. “At the time, I told Mr. Marshall that I didn’t think he should resign because he did nothing wrong.”