TAMPA — The Board of Hillsborough’s transportation agency voiced support for an independent investigation into allegations of mismanagement, poor workplace environment and questionable practices of the agency’s CEO at a meeting Monday morning.
The announcement came a week after it was revealed the agency’s fourth-highest paid staffer was simultaneously working for a Louisiana public transit agency. Officials with both agencies told the Tampa Bay Times that they didn’t know she had two jobs.
County Commissioner and chairperson of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board Pat Kemp said she has been in conversation with agency attorney David Smith about next steps. “The Board of HART takes very seriously the management issues that we’ve been hearing and reading about,” she said.
Kemp said they tried to schedule a special meeting for Monday morning but were unable to do so due to a seven-day public notice requirement. Instead, discussion of the agency’s recent controversies took place at the regularly scheduled committee meeting Monday morning.
Smith said that he’s working with HART board members to organize an investigation by outside independent counsel. HART CEO Adelee Le Grand expressed support for this decision and doubled down on her commitment to pushing the agency forward.
“I was hired to lead HART in a new direction and to help it overcome its troubled past,” she said. “And I feel like we are making good progress. I don’t want anything to disrupt our momentum and I welcome this outside investigation.”
Since April, chief customer experience officer Teri Wright, who reported directly to Le Grand, had been simultaneously working for a public transit agency in New Orleans — netting more than $350,000 per year and violating both agency’s employment policies, the Times previously reported.
The discovery raised broader questions about Le Grand’s leadership style and the way the transit agency operates.
On Monday, Le Grand said that upon learning of the possibility of Wright’s dual employment, Wright was put on part-time status as HART conducted an investigation. It confirmed Wright violated the agency’s employment policy. Le Grand said that she then informed Wright that her time with HART was over. She left the agency on Nov. 7.
“She violated my trust in a way I didn’t even know was possible,” Le Grand said of Wright on Monday, adding the agency is now taking steps to limit their remote work policy.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who sits on HART’s board, was also present at the Monday morning meeting and stressed the importance of a timely, thorough independent investigation, “in light of our community and in fairness to Ms. Le Grand.”
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The agency’s next board meeting is Dec. 5, during which details of how, when and by whom the investigation should be undertaken will be on the agenda. David Adams, attorney at Tampa’s Bennett Jacobs & Adams, is a candidate to conduct the independent investigation, HART attorney David Smith said.
Public comment was read aloud during Monday’s meeting, calling the board to investigate.
“Ms. Le Grand has depleted this organization of dedicated, committed, talented transit professionals,” it read. The comment was emailed to HART over the weekend.
Earlier this month, the agency terminated several senior roles including the director of safety and security and the director of human resources, according to HART spokesperson Frank Wyszynski.
“Help us be the agency that makes the community proud,” the comment continued. “We want to serve all those who believe in public transit.”
The comment also called a memo Le Grand had circulated to staff last week “insulting,” adding that some employees are exploring legal representation and filing state ethics complaints regarding unfair employment practices.
“The commuters of the Tampa Bay region deserve a reliable transit system that works better for them. I am determined to make that happen,” wrote Adelee Le Grand, who has held the top position since the start of last year. “In making the tough decisions required to change the status quo, feathers will no doubt be ruffled.”