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Charlotte Mayor Lyles wrongly claimed MTC didn't vote for outside CATS investigation

 Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles (center) misrepresented what Mecklenburg Commissioner Leigh Altman said at a March 23 MTC meeting.
Steve Harrison
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles (center) misrepresented what Mecklenburg Commissioner Leigh Altman said at a March 23 MTC meeting.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles on Monday night misrepresented what the Metropolitan Transit Commission unanimously voted for two weeks ago, when the group requested a third-party consultant to investigate the Charlotte Area Transit System.

Lyles, who is also chair of the MTC, said the group never used the words “third party” or “RFP” when it asked for an investigation.

“I’m going to say words really matter,” Lyles said at the close of Monday’s City Council meeting. “I want to make sure that I send out to you the actual motion from the MTC. It did not say a third party or an RFP.”

The mayor made those remarks when defending the city’s decision to ask the federal government to conduct the review — rather than hiring an outside consultant.

But Lyles was incorrect.

At the MTC meeting on March 23, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Leigh Altman read a motion — using the words third party and RFP, which stands for request for proposal. That means the MTC wanted the city to ask for the private sector to do the investigation.

“My motion will be to move that the MTC adopt a resolution requesting that a third-party transit consultant perform an operational investigation,” Altman said.

She went on to say that would include the derailment, a failure to inspect bridges on the Lynx Blue Line and a failure to buy buses in a timely manner.

“I further request that the resolution provide that an RFP for this work go out on an expedited basis and the consultant report back to the MTC on an expedited basis.”

Altman said Tuesday that the “transcript speaks for itself” and that she will work to ensure “the public will have transparency.”

Lyles couldn’t be reached Tuesday.

The mayor’s comments came after City Council member Renee Johnson questioned whether the city was doing the right thing in asking the Federal Transit Administration to do the review, rather than a consultant.

The FTA does a review of CATS every three years. The next review is scheduled for 2025. The city said it will ask the federal government to expedite that review for this year.

“I would say the council needs to follow the MTC’s recommendation,” Johnson said. “That’s my perspective and to not deviate from that — to build trust in the community.”

While Johnson has pushed for the city to follow the MTC’s request, other council members appear to back the mayor and City Manager Marcus Jones’ plan for the FTA review.

Council member Ed Driggs, who is the chair of the City Council's transportation committee, said Monday that the MTC’s vote was only a request and it’s the city’s job to decide what is best.

CATS is a city department that reports up to the city manager, but the MTC shares oversight of the transit agency. The commission doesn’t have its own budget or spending power, so it has to ask the city to hire an investigator on its behalf.

Since the derailment, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has found numerous problems with CATS.

It said the transit system didn’t perform required maintenance, and it said CATS’ response to the accident was “unclear, insufficient and not acceptable.”

Over the weekend, the state carried out a surprise inspection. Regulators found that CATS was sometimes operating the rail operations control center with only one person. If it happens again, the state will require CATS to shut down either the Lynx Blue Line or the Gold Line.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.