Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- CATS CEO Bob Mirabito

After a highly scrutinized first year at the helm of the embattled Capital Area Transit System, CEO Bob Mirabito will now be negotiating with the CATS board on a long-term contract to firmly secure him as the leader of the agency.

The CATS board on Wednesday praised Mirabito’s work and voted to move forward with the negotiations. The details of his contract, which will include his salary and length of stay, will be disclosed once the contract comes back to the board for final approval.

Mirabito, a businessman with no previous transit experience, was hired last year on an interim basis, after former CEO Brian Marshall was pressured into resigning. Mirabito was then offered a 13-month contract with an annual salary of $140,000.

The extension was met with mixed reviews by some civic groups that wanted to see the agency hold a national search for a more experienced transit leader, which the board had previously indicated it would do.

CATS Board President Donna Collins-Lewis, who is also a Baton Rouge Metro Councilwoman, credited Mirabito with turning the system around.

“Mr. Mirabito not only exceeded expectations but he restored public confidence in the organization … and successfully laid the foundation for continued progress,” Collins-Lewis said.

On Wednesday, the board also voted to bid on 10 used buses to add to CATS’ aged fleet.

The buses, being auctioned from an agency in Virginia, are 13 years old and have about 350,000 miles on them. But the vehicles had clean inspections, and CATS is prepared to bid up to only $10,000 per bus, per state bid law.

A brand-new bus, which has a 12-year life, would cost $435,000.

CATS has frequently cited the outdated state of its fleet as the reason many buses aren’t on time. Mirabito has said buses frequently break down on the streets.

He framed the auction as a stopgap measure until federal funds could be secured to purchase new buses.

Because it’s an auction, there’s no guarantee they’ll get all the buses.

But he said he’s also looking at purchasing even older buses from Houston, Texas, and Topeka, Kansas.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at