Update: CATS to name interim CEO on Friday, 'all options on table' to replace resigning Bob Mirabito _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- CATS CEO Bob Mirabito looks out the window as he rides an all electric Proterra bus during a demonstration on March 31, 2016, at the North Boulevard Town Square in Baton Rouge, La.

Update, 11:30 a.m.:

CATS will hold a special meeting Friday to appoint an interim CEO following Tuesday's announcement that Bob Mirabito is resigning.

Board President Jim Brandt said the board has not yet picked a specific time or place.

He also plans to form a search committee to look for a permanent replacement for Mirabito, whose last day is May 6. Brandt said he was not sure how long the search would take, saying possibly two or three months. Brandt suggested the interim head would come from within CATS.

When asked whether the permanent CEO would be an internal or external hire, Brandt said "all options are on the table," and that the search committee would determine how to proceed.

Original story:

The occasionally controversial head of the Capital Area Transit System announced his resignation Tuesday.

CEO Bob Mirabito’s last day on the job will be May 6. He started with CATS in June 2013.

In a statement, CATS board President Jim Brandt praised Mirabito’s turn at the helm, though others were more critical of his tenure.

“The (union members who) are calling me, they’re shouting with joy,” said Naomi Guy, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1546, which represents CATS employees. Hours before Mirabito announced his resignation Tuesday, the union had released plans for an upcoming public forum to discuss poorly maintained and unsafe buses.

In his resignation letter, Mirabito said he is leaving CATS to return to the private sector. He said being in the public eye was beginning to affect his family.

“There have been a number of personal attacks written and said about me that my family had to endure. Additionally, it was disconcerting when my son was approached by a stranger because he was wearing a ball shirt with his last name across the back and being asked if his dad was the CATS CEO,” Mirabito wrote.

Bob Mirabito's resignation letter

East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman and mayoral candidate John Delgado, who just last week called for a change in transit leadership, said Mirabito was just never right for the job.

“This was a long time coming,” Delgado said. “(Mirabito) didn’t have any transit experience coming to the table.”

Under the CEO’s leadership, the system had trouble introducing new software, shelters and buses, among other problems, Delgado said.

But CATS leaders defended Mirabito’s legacy.

“CATS appreciates the work Bob has done and the changes he has introduced at the agency,” Brandt wrote in a statement. “While I am saddened by his decision, I know we are in a better position to provide the transit service Baton Rouge deserves, and that is a result of Bob and the team he has assembled at CATS.”

Mirabito also pointed to successes.

“As I look forward to the future, I can’t help but look back at the events of the last three years. CATS has enjoyed significant growth in ridership and routes; the workforce has doubled in size; we have labor stability with the new contract and the makings of a strategic plan that will shepherd CATS into the future,” he wrote.

In April, Mirabito received a 19 percent pay raise, which made him one of the highest-paid public officials working in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Last year, Mirabito made controversial statements in a podcast interview about the racial demographics of the CATS ridership.

He initially said he stood by the statements but later apologized after CATS board Chairwoman Donna Collins-Lewis called on him to do so.

With Mirabito on the way out, his detractors already are looking for the next leader.

Delgado, who has advocated for putting the system under Metro Council control, said the city should look at contracting with a management company to run the CATS administration. As an example, he pointed to the River Center, which doesn’t have a board but hires a company to run its operations.

In a news release late Tuesday, Delgado wrote, “Bob Mirabito’s resignation this evening gives us the chance to improve service to East Baton Rouge Parish residents by hiring a professional transit management company to oversee operations and reforming this overpriced, overfunded, wasteful system that underserves the people of our parish.

“The employees of CATS are hard-working and qualified; the management of CATS has long been overpaid, unqualified and — quite frankly — ridiculous,” Delgado continued. “I wish Mr. Mirabito the best, but it is time for a change in the fundamental way we provide transportation service to our citizens.”

Guy, the union president, disagreed.

“Privatization is not the answer,” she said.

However, she too was critical of the CATS board.

“They hired a man with no transit knowledge,” she said of Mirabito.

Guy said CATS has two qualified candidates waiting in the wings: new Chief Operations Officer Don Palmer and Chief Revenue Officer Bill Deville.

“Those two guys there, I know they have the experience and the knowledge,” she said.