HART to search for new leader

A Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus
HART is to begin a national search for a new chief operating officer . (OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times )
A Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus HART is to begin a national search for a new chief operating officer . (OCTAVIO JONES | Times )
Published Aug. 6, 2018|Updated Aug. 8, 2018

TAMPA — The county's bus agency wants a new leader.

Board members of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority voted Monday to begin a nationwide search for a new chief executive officer.

But that search will not include Jeff Seward, who has served as the agency's interim CEO since December.

In a letter sent to the board last week, Seward ruled himself out of the running for the job. His position had become increasingly untenable after roughly half of the agency's 13 board members voted in July to conduct a national search for a new leader saying that Seward was welcome to compete for his job.

That vote failed on a tie but Seward's fate was likely sealed last week when Hillsborough County Commissioners made a national search a condition of a $2.1 million allocation to the bus agency.  Commissioners Sandy Murman and Stacy White were among HART board members who said HART needed to conduct a national search.

HART interim CEO Jeff Seward
HART interim CEO Jeff Seward

Seward gave no reasons for his decision to rule himself out in his letter except to say it included reflection of events at recent meetings. At Monday's meeting, he said he has moved the agency forward in a period he described as an "active interview."

That included HART receiving a $2.7 million award from the state to extend service hours for the TECO Line Streetcar System and to make rides free.

"We accomplished many things over the last eight months," he said. "I feel very strongly if we are going out to a national search, which I do support, I don't want to compete with someone who will eventually be my boss."

Board members did not discuss Seward's performance. A recent performance review by board members scored him as exceeding expectations.

Seward was promoted from chief financial officer to replace Katharine Eagan, who left after three years at the helm.

He is contracted to serve as interim CEO through Nov. 30 but that may be extended depending on how long the search for a new CEO takes. His contract allows for him to return to his position as chief financial officer.

The search for a new leader comes at a critical point for both the agency and the future of transportation in Hillsborough. If successful, a citizen-led ballot initiative to raise sales tax for transportation would increase HART's annual budget from $70 million to about $200 million in 2019.

It would put the agency in charge of developing a transit system linking the University of South Florida, downtown Tampa and Westshore.