CATS names a new director

Doug Howard sees `fundamental need' for transit system

October 14, 2007|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Sun reporter

For the first day at his new job, Doug Howard took a Carroll Area Transit Service bus to work from Eldersburg to Westminster.

"I thought that would be a good way to start," said the transit service's new executive director.

But what if he needs to leave the office?

"There's a fleet of buses if I need to go anywhere," he said.

CATS, Carroll County's primary transportation service, has been without an executive director since mid-May, when Neal Roop resigned after holding the reins for the last six years, said Holly Hutchins, board of directors' president.

Shortly after Roop left, Sandy Sipes, CATS' director of administration, left for another job, Hutchins said. Sipes supervised the internal staff and performed marketing and public relations duties.

With two major positions open, "the board took time to step back and regroup," Hutchins said. "Sandy's leaving also played into looking for a new leader. And what with a budget loss with our medical assistance contract, we decided not to fill Sandy's position, but to look for a really strong leader who could look to work both ends at this time."

Howard was chosen from about 20 applicants from around the county, as well as out of county and state, Hutchins said.

"In Doug, we had a big wish list of what we were looking for and we feel that Doug can meet a lot of those wishes that we have," Hutchins said. "He's well respected in the business community and always tries to stay one step ahead."

A relative newcomer to the county, having moved to Eldersburg in 1995 with his family, Howard, 42, wasted no time in getting involved in the community. He owns BDG Entrepreneurial Services, a company that provides accounting, tax, payroll and consulting services to small business owners.

He founded Start-Up Carroll, a free service that helps small business owners to get started. He has taught at Carroll Community College, and served on the boards of the Department of Social Services, CHANGE Inc., Carroll County Chamber of Commerce and South Carroll Business Association. Last fall he ran for county commissioner.

"I think this is an excellent opportunity," Howard said of his new job. "CATS is an important organization and so many people rely on it - we have a growing older population and economic development - so there's a fundamental need for it."

Though CATS takes an estimated 145,000 to 150,000 riders a year on one-way trips, Howard, who took the bus to work on Wednesday, wants to get the word out more about what CATS is and does.

The elderly and the disabled are the biggest users of the fleet of three dozen buses that travel to all major parts of the county Monday through Friday, but other groups can also benefit from the service, Howard said..

"You have teens who aren't old enough to drive and need transportation to a job," he said. "The county is growing. We need to look at the hours we operate. People work different hours. A lot of things happen on the weekends."

The first project is to take a rider survey to find out what the community's needs are and "what opportunities are out there," he said.

Howard also wants to look at advertising CATS' services more on their buses. He plans to look at CATS' Web site and its other marketing materials and to network with those who rely on CATS to bring their clients to them.

"If we're going to bring companies to Carroll, they need to know their employees can get to and from work," Howard said. "People here really don't want mass transit, so CATS can be Carroll's mass transit. CATS can meet that need."

Besides handling CATS' main function to serve the community, Howard also has to lead the organization's internal workings.

"I feel like my job is to really support what the people at CATS do, to look at what we're already doing and the technology we're using, and to see if there are things we can build on," he said.

With time, Howard's goal is for CATS to be the county's full service transportation system "that allows Carroll to remain the rural county that it is," he said.

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