TAMPA — The board of Hillsborough’s transit authority voted Monday to continue with an investigation into the agency’s CEO days after her lawyer proposed a settlement.
The results of the investigation were slated to be presented to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit board Monday morning. But during the meeting it was revealed the investigating attorney had not yet interviewed CEO Adelee Le Grand and had faced trouble accessing documents from the under-staffed agency. Board members also discussed their concerns and confusions with the settlement Le Grand’s lawyer proposed last week.
Under the proposal, which the agency’s lawyers had “strongly” recommended, the “pending investigation will cease immediately and no written report shall be prepared and no oral report shall be given,” according to details of the settlement obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.
Agency attorney David Smith clarified for board members Monday that the proposal would null a formal report but material from the investigation would remain public record, he said.
“It wasn’t going to be secret, it was going to be incomplete,” he told the Times after the meeting.
Board members voted to establish a special meeting by the end of the month to discuss the probe and settlement options in more detail, asking investigating attorney David Adams to prepare a presentation.
Smith told board members the investigation, which has already cost the agency more than $28,000 in legal fees, is 10-14 days away from completion. Adams has yet to uncover anything that would necessitate the termination of Le Grand for cause, Smith said.
“Take the deal and run,” Smith said Adams told him, regarding the proposed settlement.
“I welcome the investigation,” Le Grand reiterated at Monday’s meeting, but expressed frustration that the 60-day completion deadline had long passed.
The investigation into complaints accusing her of mismanagement began more than three months ago after the Times revealed the agency’s fourth-highest paid staffer was also working for the public transit agency in another state.
“If there is a commitment to continuing this investigation and if there is a commitment that there will be true closure in an expeditious way, I’m willing to stay the course,” Le Grand said Monday.
An inability to obtain necessary information from the stretched-thin agency had slowed the process, Smith said.
“There’s been so much reorganization within HART that some of the files are not able to be obtained,” he said. “And some of the employment files are incomplete.”
Le Grand said she hadn’t been contacted for an interview, but later adjusted her remarks saying that an interview was not “in my calendar.”
Her lawyer, Steven Wenzel, and the investigating attorney had discussed scheduling a meeting March 2, according to Smith, the day Wenzel proposed the settlement.
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Temple Terrace Vice Mayor and board member Gil Schisler said he was “taken aback” by the 11th-hour deal from Wenzel, adding the need for transparency around the investigator’s findings. “We need this information so we can do the right thing,” he said.
City of Tampa board representative Melanie Williams called completing the report “a must” and Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp described feeling “in the dark,” hoping that more specificity on the investigation results would help the board chart a path forward.
The structure of the special meeting remains unclear. County Commissioner Gwen Myers asked for the completed investigation report and another report by the agency’s attorney on “systemic issues” to be presented March 20 or 27th.
The agency continues to struggle with subpar route performance and faces a fiscal cliff in 2024 — two years sooner than previous predictions.
“HART is a real lifeline,” said board chairperson and Tampa City Councilmember Luis Viera, stressing the importance of not losing sight of the riders who use and rely upon the bus service.
“People need to have the confidence that there will be stable leadership as we move forward and right now I cannot say that my employees have that confidence,” Le Grand said Monday. “...They recognize that next year we are going to be short. The year after that we’re going to be short exponentially. We’re going under.”
In an effort to install some semblance of stability at the agency, Smith asked the board to consider a moratorium on hiring and firing. But at that point in Monday’s meeting, too many board members had left to hold a vote.