TAMPA — Hillsborough County's bus agency can't say when it will replace former chief executive David Armijo, and so far it hasn't set aside money to find a successor.
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit is still reviewing budgets for the next two years. So far, neither spending plan includes funds to hire a national search agency, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars and drag on six months or more.
That hefty price, and the belt-tightening climate HART finds itself in, convinced the agency that now isn't the right time to launch a costly executive search.
"Right now because of budget restraints, we're in a situation where we have to watch every dime, nickel and penny," board member and Tampa City Council member Mike Suarez said. "The cost for a search can be prohibitive."
Because the budgets don't include costs for an executive search, they also exclude compensation costs for a chief executive. For now, maintenance chief Philip Hale is running the agency on an interim basis at his previous $149,000 salary — much less than the $185,000 Armijo was paid.
Meanwhile, board members insist there's no hurry to replace Armijo and that they're satisfied with Hale and other HART managers. Their focus now, they say, is the 2012 and 2013 budgets. Those budgets don't include costs for a chief executive or an executive search agency, although they can be added later at the board's discretion.
"I think the climate on the board is there's no urgency to find a replacement," board member Steve Polzin said. "My recollection is the last search cost $40,000. Then there's the moving expense and the cost of bringing candidates in for interviews."
Not that the matter won't be revisited this summer. Polzin said it's likely that at some point in coming months board members will discuss Armijo's replacement, the qualities they want in a leader and the agency's vision for the future.
Polzin also said several members are new and the board must still decide together on the kind of public transportation system they want for the future and whether, after voters last year shot down plans to build a light-rail system, it should ever include light rail.
Meanwhile, the board this week severed its last ties with Armijo after the embattled former chief signed a severance package for $132,000 before taxes. Armijo, who joined HART 3 1/2 years ago, was fired in April amid allegations he disregarded HART policies and demoted or shuffled employees who questioned his decisions.