CATS board chair stands behind Mirabito following controversial comments on race

    Capital Area Transit System Board Chair Donna Collins-Lewis is standing behind the bus system’s CEO, Bob Mirabito, who is under fire for comments he made on a local podcast last week about the racial makeup of the CATS workforce.

    “There have been many times that groups have said they wished that businesses or elected offices better reflected the population of Baton Rouge,” Collins-Lewis says. “Bob said he wished the CATS workforce was more representative of the city’s demographic makeup. What’s so racial about that?”

    Mirabito’s comments came on a podcast hosted by Clay Young, a public relations executive who worked for CATS and Mirabito in 2013 and early 2014. In the interview with Young, Mirabito says he believes the fact that CATS’ workforce is 95% African-American may keep some people from riding its buses.

    “I think there are some people who may not ride the bus because they don’t like the color of an operator’s skin,” he says in the interview. “That’s a shame.”

    Union leaders representing bus drivers reacted with outrage, and C. Denise Marcelle—who sits on both the Metro Council and the CATS board, and is a frequent critic of Mirabito—called for his firing.

    Collins-Lewis, who is African-American, says she spoke briefly with Mirabito about the comments Monday night and that she will meet with him Thursday, when the board has its regularly scheduled finance and executive meeting. She says firing the CEO, after the many reforms he has implemented at the agency, would be foolish.

    “It’s like every time Bob does something somebody wants us to fire him,” says Collins-Lewis, also a Metro Council member. “People don’t even get an opportunity to be heard anymore. If he made a mistake in making those comments I can’t see where it was such a big mistake.”

    Several other CATS board members contacted this morning decline to comment or did not return calls seeking comment. Some haven’t heard the podcast yet. Collins-Lewis says she plans to listen to it later today. So does CATS board member Kevin O’Gorman.

    “I haven’t listened to it but I read about it so I am going to try to listen this afternoon,” O’Gorman says.

    Mirabito did not return a call for comment as of this morning’s deadline.

    —Stephanie Riegel

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