Cover Story: CATS chief leaving? CATS future?

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte Area Transit System CEO Keith Parker Wednesday morning expected to be formally offered the job as head of San Antonio's transit system.  Parker's likely departure comes at a crucial times for CATS looking to construct a multi-billion dollar transit system.  PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson has a look in our Cover Story.

Though he made not have been as famous as Ron Tober.. who had the title as Charlotte's transit czar, Keith Parker.. even to his critics.. was a better communicator than his predecessor.

Taking over the top job just 18 months ago.. after Mecklenburg voters killed a plan to get rid of the half-cent tax than funds the transit system.

"It's amazing that because of Charlotte's successful bus and light rail line we're having a lot of our employees taken to other cities," says Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.

Parker.. if he accepts.. will head up San Antonio's VIA Metropolitan Transit.

A much bigger system than Charlotte's that handles 40 million passenger trips (the way transit agencies measure traffic) a year compared to CATS' 25-million yearly passenger trips.

Unlike Charlotte.. San Antonio has no light rail system.. but is looking to build one.

"We've got lots of visitors from around the country.. happen to see what we have a good thing.. other people recognize it and they want it too," says Mecklenburg county commission chairwoman Jennifer Roberts.

But Parker will leave behind a system in need of direction.

There's already light rail to the south.

But CATS long-range plan by 2030 is to extend light rail to the northeast.. University City, commuter trains running to the north, streetcar through central Charlotte.  And either light rail or rapid bus lines along Independence Boulevard.

But with the recession.. CATS revenue has plummeted.  And officials have had to admit they can't expand the system under the current funding half-cent transit tax.

Jeff Taylor is a transit critic and writes for the weblog,

He says, "A lot of ways Charlotte has been sold a bill of goods with this nine-billion dollar plan because we can't afford it. I think the time would be right for someone to come in with a new plan that we can afford."

In San Antonio.. Parker will not only oversee a bigger bus system.. but could wind up with responsiblity over the city's toll roads system.. it comes with a salary increase as well.

Was there effort made to keep him here???.. the mayor says no.

"There won't be an effort to match or get into a bidding war. We have to stay in budget."

Keith Parker is the third highest paid city employee making more than 197-thousand dollars a year.

The mayor says they might look at reducing that salary for his replacement.. to save money.

CATS wasn't making Parker available to the media today.. he's not commenting till the offer comes.

What will happen if he resigns?

If he resigns.. city manager is expected to name an interim chief executive from within.  And then launch a national search.. many believe it shouldn't be hard to fill.. Charlotte's is an up and coming system... many say it's very attractive job.