As CATS problems grow, interim CEO claims they are ‘fixable’

MTC members show frustration that CATS news breaks on WBTV before they’re updated.
CATS interim CEO Brent Cagle updated members of the Metropolitan Transit Commission during a Wednesday meeting.
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 11:11 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - At the Metropolitan Transit Commission meeting Wednesday, Davidson Mayor Rusty Knox read a carefully crafted statement that conveyed one clear message: frustration.

“Just yesterday, as I was getting ready for my town board meeting, I found out via a news reporting app on my phone that the chief of rail operations had been placed on administrative leave.

Mayor Knox was describing WBTV’s report from Tuesday, breaking the news that CATS General Manager of Rail Operations Deltrin Harris was placed on paid administrative leave.

During a news conference, CATS interim CEO Brent Cagle said he could not discuss personnel and human resource issues that would explain why Harris was put on leave.

Cagle has promised more transparency at CATS but now, Knox says the problems are more systemic. He claimed that mayors in Mecklenburg, outside of Charlotte, have no meaningful authority on the MTC that approves CATS budget and directs its policies.

“This can’t be a funding mechanism for Charlotte,” Mayor Knox said.

“If we’re to be partners in public transit then we should be treated as such.”

Mayor Knox called for a new agreement between Charlotte and local towns to govern CATS or face failure in its bigger regional plans. The interlocal agreement that currently governs the MTC is set to expire in 2024 and Knox emphasized the need to start crafting a new one now.

The comments from Mayor Knox were especially striking because up until former CATS CEO John Lewis’ departure, he had usually stood by and defended the former head of Charlotte’s public transit.

Knox isn’t on an island, as both Mecklenburg County Commissioner Leigh Altman and Pineville Mayor Jack Edwards have recently been critical of the MTC’s structure and perceived dominance by Charlotte.

Smaller problems at CATS still persist.

During the MTC meeting, Cagle also announced recent violations at CATS railyard brought by state regulators.

Maintenance to repair the problem that caused a May 2022 train car derailment will take 12 months to fix half the fleet.

Add in a shooting, a stabbing and more personnel holes to fil and Cagle and CATS have a full plate of problems.

Cagle claims that CATS is still on the road to improvement.

“I have seen CATS make improvements, sometimes that gets lost in these incidents, but I am encouraged that CATS is moving forward in small and big ways every day,” Cagle said.

“This is fixable. We’re moving forward.”