Following a contentious meeting, the oversight board for the Capital Area Transit System stripped system CEO Bill Deville of his title and duties following a series of controversies at the agency.
The board entered the meeting planning to terminate Deville's contract entirely but abruptly chose to leave him without a title or responsibilities — but he is still set to make at least $179,000 a year until his contract expires in September 2023.
"We retained his employment, removed his title as CEO and named an interim CEO," Board of Commissioners President Kahli Cohran said. "We will further define his responsibilities."
The bus system's board named Dwana Williams, the agency's chief operating officer, the interim CEO. She'll serve in that role indefinitely while the board searches for a permanent replacement.
The board went into the meeting intending to terminate Deville's contract. But that plan was derailed when Metro Council Pro Tem LaMont Cole spoke before the board as a private citizen to warn against firing Deville, arguing it would likely not be for cause.
"I would hope that those board members who have come to a conclusion to terminate Mr. Deville today would take some time, sit back, have a conversation with him, have a conversation with staff, develop a transition forward that would allow the agency to do what is best, not only for CATS but for the general public," Cole told the board.
Following some deliberation, the board settled on simply stripping him of his title and duties but allowing him to remain an employee of the agency under his current contract.
Board Vice President Linda Perkins, who advocated for simply terminating Deville's contract, was the only vote against stripping Deville of his title and duties.
The board hopes Deville will advise Williams as she transitions to interim CEO and provide guidance for the hunt for a permanent CEO, Cohran said. The board did not define any new responsibilities or title for Deville during the meeting.
Deville was named the agency's CEO in the spring of 2016. He marked his sixth anniversary as head of the bus system Sunday.
While CATS has seen improvements in bus service during that time, a steady stream of controversies marred much of his tenure.
"We've had too many ... unforced errors, lapses in management and judgment and those have played out in the news, and I think most of the things that have played out in the news have been preventable," board member Patrick Downs said. "I think we owe it to the taxpayers and the riders to do a better job managing the system.”
Several other members of the board said they had "lost confidence" in Deville in recent weeks.
The board called the special meeting following weeks of turmoil at the agency after a positive drug test of the system's comptroller for methamphetamine leaked to the public.
CATS is also battling a federal lawsuit from its labor union, which accuses Deville of “union busting” by punishing employees who had spoken out about what they called “corrupt business practices” and unsafe pandemic work conditions. The lawsuit came after the transit agency spent $50,000 investigating several union officers for allegedly disseminating a co-worker's sex tape.
The system also struggled with reliability in recent years, including a surge in route cancellations throughout most of 2021 that left some riders stranded at bus stops.
“There are a number of concerns administratively throughout the organization," Cohran told a group of reporters following the meeting. "You all have had no shortage of ... material to report on the agency over time.”
Deville's greatest success came in November when the agency successfully lobbied voters in Baton Rouge and Baker to renew the 10-year property tax that makes up more than half of the agency's operating budget.
"The system is performing," Downs said. "It can always be better, and we’re working on that. Bill deserves some credit for things that are going well, but my frustration personally is that we seem to not be able to get out of our own way from a management standpoint."
Williams is a longtime employee of CATS who worked her way up into an administrative role. She started working at the agency in 2003 and was named lead dispatcher in 2010, according to her LinkedIn profile. Williams then received a series of promotions, serving as operations manager, director of operations and was named chief operating officer in March 2019, according to her LinkedIn profile.