TAMPA — The new CEO of Hillsborough’s bus agency announced the departures of two members of his executive team Wednesday, just weeks after a bus driver was killed.
Ben Limmer, who started with the agency on March 25, said he eliminated the position of chief administrative officer, held by Kenyatta Lee, as part of a larger staff reorganization. Separately, chief financial officer Jeff Seward resigned, Limmer said. The two will complete work on major initiatives before they leave.
“There’s a lot going on with public transportation in Hillsborough County. …That includes preparing for growth, keeping our operators and customers safe and secure and keeping our transit system up and running,” Limmer told the Tampa Bay Times. “These (staff) changes are reflecting the future of HART.”
The changes come less than a month after a bus driver for the agency was killed on the job. A passenger slit Thomas Dunn’s throat on May 18 while Dunn was driving a route along Nebraska Avenue.
Last week, more than 15 drivers spoke to the transit agency’s board and demanded safer working conditions in the aftermath of the slaying. They asked the board to install safety shields separating drivers from passengers, to make sure panic buttons are working properly on all the buses and to move video cameras to the front of the bus.
Limmer would not say whether the staff changes were directly related to the safety concerns. But he did tell the Times that he authorized the purchase Wednesday of safety shields to be installed on all 180 buses in the fleet and also the vehicles that operate on the agency’s “Flex” routes.
The agency is allocating $1 million for the barriers, which are expected to cost about $5,000 each.
Agency board member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman said Limmer called her today to inform her of the staff changes. She praised Lee and Seward for their work with the agency, but said recent events show there were safety and management issues that needed to be addressed.
“It was heart-breaking to listen to what employees are pleading for, literally pleading for,” Overman said of last week’s meeting. “That isn’t usually a great indication that there is a great management style that is working.”
Limmer said he chose to eliminate the chief administrative officer position so that he could work more closely with the individuals under that role, including safety and security, human resources and legal.
“Ben did tell me, ‘I usually don’t have (human resources) that close to me, but in this circumstance, it’s critically important,’ ” Overman said. “(Drivers) are on the front line with the public, and we’ve got to support them and keep them safe as best as we can.”
Limmer said he does not have a timeline for when he will hire a new chief financial officer to replace Seward, but he will announce interim leadership roles “very shortly.”
Seward joined the bus agency in November 2011. Limmer said he could not disclose specific reasons for Seward’s resignation.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.