TAMPA — After coming under fire from a Hillsborough County commissioner, the longtime director of Hillsborough's transportation planning agency stepped down Friday.
Lucie Ayer, executive director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization for 13 years, will take a lower-level administrative job at the MPO. That is essentially what Commissioner Mark Sharpe suggested last week when he said he wanted a more vocal advocate for mass transit running the agency.
The MPO is in charge of long-range transportation planning and distributes hundreds of millions of federal dollars every year for roads and buses. Its 13-member board is composed mostly of elected officials from Hillsborough County, Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace.
When Sharpe suggested replacing Ayer at an MPO meeting last week, other board members defended her. They said leadership on issues such as light rail must come from elected officials, not administrators like her. They noted that the MPO's staff recently put together an updated plan for a future countywide passenger rail network, which the board approved in November.
The board's chairman, Temple Terrace Mayor Joe Affronti, said Friday that he's disappointed.
"Lucie is a very, very competent, well-respected, knowledgeable executive director," Affronti said. "The majority of the MPO board supported Lucie and said she's been doing a wonderful job. In my opinion, I think the pressure got to her to the point where she just said it's not worth it."
Sharpe praised Ayer's skills on Friday but said the transportation agency needs a more effective communicator at the helm as some officials gear up for a possible sales tax referendum that could be held in 2010. They hope to persuade Hillsborough voters to approve a half-cent or 1-cent tax to pay for a beefed-up transit system, including light rail.
Ayer couldn't be reached for comment Friday. Her supervisor, Bob Hunter, executive director of Hillsborough's Planning Commission, said Ayer asked if she could take a 10 percent salary cut and move into a projects administrator job at the MPO instead. Ayer earned $130,000 a year as the MPO's executive director.
"She said it might be best that the executive director position be left open in case the MPO wants to go in a different direction," Hunter said.
Ray Chiaramonte, the Planning Commission's assistant executive director, will serve as the MPO's interim director.
Hunter will advertise the position in professional journals, narrow the responses to three or four and bring the finalists to the MPO board.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3435.