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HART expects investigation into chief to be complete this month

The whistleblower complaint from November is related to purchasing issues. Details remain scant.

TAMPA — An investigation into the Hillsborough transit authority’s chief executive officer is expected to wrap up this month, the agency’s attorney told the board Monday.

Ben Limmer, who took the helm of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority in March, was placed on paid leave on Nov. 4 days after a whistleblower letter was sent to board members.

Agency attorney David Smith has said the complaint involves procurement processes, vendor relations and related matters, but the agency has refused to provide any other details.

Related: Hillsborough transit chief placed on leave after whistleblower complaint

Officials had initially hoped the investigation would be completed within the month, but then pushed that expected end date to the new year. Smith said Monday they “fully anticipate” the report to be completed in January.

Board members will receive a written report in advance of their February 3 meeting, where they will discuss the findings, Smith said.

Related: Investigation into HART CEO expected to stretch into new year

The transit authority signed a retainer agreement with Carlton Fields on Nov. 13 for the Tampa firm to conduct the investigation. Five attorneys and one paralegal were assigned at a rate of $350 per hour. The contract is not to exceed $100,000.

The scope of the investigation, according to the Carlton Fields agreement, includes evaluating whether any policies have been violated, such as those related to procurement and travel. The firm will then render a legal determination regarding possible violation of policies or laws.

Limmer oversees a $120 million annual budget that could swell to more than $250 million if Hillsborough’s new one-cent transportation sales tax is upheld by the Florida Supreme Court. The agency, with more than 800 employees, operates about 180 vehicles along 34 bus routes, plus the TECO Line Streetcar in Tampa and door-to-door service for individuals with disabilities. Limmer makes an annual salary of $210,000.

Carolyn House Stewart, the agency’s director of risk and legal services, is serving as interim chief.