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Hillsborough transit agency poised to discuss investigation of furloughed CEO

It’s on the board agenda Monday. Law firm Carlton Fields, hired for the investigation, released the report to the transit agency late Sunday afternoon.
Ben Limmer, chief executive officer of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, has been on paid leave for three months during an investigation stemming from a whistleblower complaint. Limmer oversees an operation with more than 800 employees and about 180 vehicles. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times]
Ben Limmer, chief executive officer of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, has been on paid leave for three months during an investigation stemming from a whistleblower complaint. Limmer oversees an operation with more than 800 employees and about 180 vehicles. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Feb. 2
Updated Feb. 2

TAMPA — Board members of Hillsborough’s transit agency are expected Monday to discuss the completed three-month investigation into their chief executive after a report was released late Sunday afternoon.

Ben Limmer was placed on paid leave Nov. 4 after Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board members received a whistleblower complaint about him. Limmer, 41, had been on the job just over seven months, hired after a national search to replace Katharine Eagan.

Ben Limmer, who makes an annual salary of $210,000, has been on paid leave since Nov. 4. [Atlanta Journal Constitution]

Details of the investigation have remained confidential. Agency attorney David Smith previously described the complaint as involving matters including procurement processes and vendor relations.

Smith told the Tampa Bay Times that he forwarded the report to board members around 4 p.m. Sunday.

Board chair and Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller said he had not received the report as of 5 p.m. He also said he could not share the report with the Times because it had to be released by the agency’s custodian of records.

Related: Hillsborough transit chief placed on leave after whistleblower complaint

Smith told the transit board last month that investigating firm Carlton Fields expected to deliver the report in January for the board to discuss at Monday’s meeting.

When the agency had not received the report as of Sunday morning, Smith sent emails to board members outlining options they could take if they had limited time to review the findings.

“I would recommend you have the hearing, listen to the presentation of the investigating law firm, ask them any questions you may have and then defer deliberation to either a special meeting you set or the next regular board meeting in March,” Smith wrote.

Limmer’s attorney, he noted, argued that the delay has left the agency’s CEO with little time to review and respond adequately.

“The real vulnerability is if we do not afford due process,” Smith wrote to board members Sunday. “Besides, you do want to provide a fair process for the target of the investigation.”

Related: Hillsborough transit agency selects Benjamin Limmer of Atlanta as new CEO

Miller said it is up the board to decide whether to take action Monday, schedule an additional meeting or postpone until March’s scheduled meeting.

Carlton Fields signed an agreement with the agency on Nov. 13 to conduct the investigation for a cost not to exceed $100,000. Five attorneys and one paralegal were assigned at a rate of $350 per hour.

Related: Here’s how Hillsborough would spend its transportation tax, if it could

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 is expected to render a legal determination.

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 in a case now before the Florida Supreme Court.

Related: Tampa Bay has one of the worst public transit systems in America. Here’s why.

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 and is entitled to as much as a 10 percent bonus at the discretion of the board.

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