Charlotte’s second-ranking transit official placed on leave without pay

CATS Chief Operating Officer Allen Smith first announced his retirement in late 2022 but then rescinded it.
CATS Chief Operating Officer Allen Smith was placed on administrative leave without pay this week.
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 7:17 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The second in command of the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) was placed on administrative leave without pay this week.

A city spokesperson confirmed Allen Smith is no longer the Chief Operating Officer of CATS, making him the third top CATS official to leave the city in the last five months.

CATS spokesperson Brandon Hunter did not provide any details about why Smith is on leave without pay or what the future of the position is.

In October, CATS Chief Executive Officer John Lewis announced he was resigning to take a job in the private sector.

In December, CATS leaders revealed during a press conference that Chief Financial Officer Blanche Sherman was resigning.

WBTV first reported that Smith was planning on retiring in October. The information was confirmed by several sources. In December, CATS revealed that Smith was “rescinding his decision to retire at the end of this month.”

The wave of personnel moves comes after a series of WBTV Investigations into CATS, including questionable leadership hires for both the bus and light rail systems, safety concerns from bus operators and riders and failures in fixing buses and collecting fares. Most concerning to riders, many buses weren’t showing up at all.

After months of failed negotiations, the SMART union for bus operators struck a deal with the contractor that manages the bus system, RATP DEV.

Smith did not make many appearances or presentations in front of Charlotte City Councilmembers despite his status as COO.

Meeting records from several advisory and regional boards such as the Metropolitan Transit Commission, show that when Smith did publicly present information it often focused on the city’s lightrail and streetcar systems.

During the last major media briefing held by CATS Interim-CEO Brent Cagle, Smith was not one of the city leaders presenting information or answering questions. During that news conference, held two days before Christmas, Cagle unveiled a third party report on CATS that identified problems with trust, reliability and the finance department for Charlotte Area Transit System.

City officials have not fulfilled numerous records requests filed by WBTV seeking documents about finances, safety records and contracts that would shine a light on how the light rail and bus systems are being operated.

Despite the ongoing overhaul of CATS leadership, plans to pursue a one-cent sales tax to pay for a massive public transit plan are moving forwad. The General Assembly would have to approve Charlotte’s plans for the sales tax before getting favorable votes from Mecklenburg County Commissioners and then Mecklenburg voters.