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Fired PSTA maintenance supervisor gets job back after lug nut incident

ST. PETERSBURG — A maintenance supervisor fired after a driver discovered missing lug nuts on a Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority bus last fall is getting his job back.

An arbitrator has ruled that the PSTA did not have grounds to fire Angelo Rebetti after the Nov. 13 incident, saying in an order there was no evidence to support the agency's claim that Rebetti "endangered the life, safety and health of PSTA employees, customers and members of the public" by releasing the bus for service.

Rebetti should be reinstated and awarded back pay, the arbitrator, Kenneth P. Starr of Sarasota, concluded on Aug. 11. The amount has not been finalized but will likely exceed $40,000, said Rick Smith, chief of staff for the Service Employees International Union, which represented Rebetti.

"I don't think there was really ever a question about his guilt in the case," Smith said. "It was extremely surprising that it even had to go to arbitration."

Starr heard the case after Rebetti contested the firing.

Shortly after leaving the agency's St. Petersburg depot that day, the driver of bus No. 2614 felt the vehicle begin to shake violently, according to a Pinellas Sheriff's Office report. He pulled over and discovered that five lug nuts on the left rear wheel assembly were missing and the remaining five were loose. There were no passengers on the bus.

PSTA security superintendent Michael Gloss told a deputy he wanted the incident documented because he believed there were a lot of disgruntled employees working there, the report said.

The deputy interviewed Rebetti, who was overheard that morning telling the dispatcher that the bus would probably break down on the driver. Rebetti said he made the joke because the bus had been parked for a month with engine problems.

The Sheriff's Office found no evidence the bus had been tampered with and closed the case, but Rebetti, a 15-year employee making $24 an hour, was later fired. He was never accused of tampering with the lug nuts, but PSTA zeroed in on the comment about the bus breaking down.

Rebetti "not only had this opinion about the bus he knowingly released to service, but broadcast it to fellow PSTA employees," PSTA's attorney wrote in a brief filed in the case. "By announcing this belief to the dispatcher loud enough for other employees to hear, he damaged the trust of those employees in the safety of buses released by (Rebetti)."

Rebetti said he was referring to a rocker arm repair, ordered by his supervisor Darren Mason, that Rebetti believed would not last long on a bus with more than 500,000 miles.

PSTA claimed it was Rebetti's second serious offense, which is grounds for termination.

"It is inconceivable to this arbitrator that a subordinate who disagrees with the order of a superior could or should be disciplined for following through on that order (or, in this case, the logical extension of following through was to place the bus back into service)," Starr wrote.

PSTA respects the arbitration process and "is fully committed to making Mr. Rebetti whole," said PSTA spokeswoman Ashlie Handy.

PSTA also tried to fire Rebetti last August after accusing him of leaking inspection records to a news reporter, but that allegation was never proven and he was reinstated.

Rebetti's latest firing came just after the resounding defeat of the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum and about three months after a driver who pulled over to investigate front end noise discovered that all 10 of the lug nuts on a front wheel assembly were loose. That incident was attributed to mechanic error and prompted chief executive officer Brad Miller to order brightly colored, tear drop-shaped rings installed under the lug nuts to make loose ones easier to spot. The bus in Rebetti's case didn't have the rings yet because more were on back order, Miller said at the time.

"At that point in time there was a lot of chaos, a lot of finger-pointing about Greenlight and incredible media pressure," Smith said. "I think it coagulated into some very bad decisions, (Rebetti's firing) being one of them."

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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