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A Times Editorial

Getting past bus company's troubled culture

The board that oversees Hillsborough County's bus agency had little choice this week but to fire David Armijo as its chief executive. The complaints about his decisions, hiring practices and management style were in some cases minor and hard to assess. But the sheer number and the central grievance raised serious questions about the stability and morale of an operation that tens of thousands of residents depend on to get them between their jobs and homes.

The board fired Armijo after an internal investigation into nearly a dozen complaints. While many details were exempt from disclosure under a state law that protects whistle-blowers from retaliation, officials said Armijo was accused of creating a hostile workplace and demoting workers or taking duties away from employees who had raised concerns with him. Armijo was accused of a conflict for renting a condominium from an agency-contracted attorney. Board members also said they were surprised to discover that they had approved a revision to Armijo's contract — which he and the agency's then-attorney wrote last year — that made it harder to fire him.

The secrecy surrounding the whistle-blowing protections made it difficult for Armijo to defend himself and hard for the board and the public to get an accurate picture. Armijo improved service and boosted ridership during his three years in charge. But the number of staff changes was excessive. He also appeared to have lost the board's patience and confidence.

The board needs to repair the culture at this troubled agency, which is already underfunded and faces $3 million or more in cuts next year. It is behind in plans to expand bus service and take another shot at building a light rail system. Residents who depend on Hillsborough Area Regional Transit deserve an agency that is focused on service, not infighting.

Getting past bus company's troubled culture 04/20/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 9:51pm]
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