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New Hillsborough transit chief pledges, ‘I will not just be a title on the website’

Adelee Marie Le Grand made the most of the day before her job interview, immersing herself in the local agency’s customers, employees and operations.
Adelee Le Grand
Adelee Le Grand [ Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority ]
Published Nov. 2, 2020

Adelee Marie Le Grand had been in Tampa 24 hours when she joined three other finalists for interviews before the 15-member board of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

And it was how Le Grand spent her free day that helped lead the board to select her unanimously Monday as the new chief executive of the transit agency.

She toured the agency’s maintenance center. She introduced herself to the head of security. She talked with Ruthie in operations and Crystal in Human Resources and visited the training center where employees are encouraged to see their job as a long-term career.

And around 8:30 p.m. Sunday, she visited the Netpark Transfer Center in Tampa’s Orient Park area and rode the Route 6 bus to the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, talking with riders and getting a first-hand look at challenges facing the county’s public transportation network.

Bus rider Sandra Bailey talks in September with transportation planner Justin Willits at the Netpark Transfer Center in Tampa about changes proposed to her bus route. Service cuts of 10 percent are scheduled to begin in January.
Bus rider Sandra Bailey talks in September with transportation planner Justin Willits at the Netpark Transfer Center in Tampa about changes proposed to her bus route. Service cuts of 10 percent are scheduled to begin in January. [ CAITLIN JOHNSTON | Caitlin Johnston ]

Le Grand impressed the board Monday with a candid, thoughtful interview focused on customers and employees.

“What I can promise you is that they will see me,” she told the board. “I will not just be a title on the website.”

Le Grand has worked at some of the nation’s top transportation consulting firms for the past 18 years, including AECOM and URS. She is now vice president with Illinois-based Transdev North America, part of a public transit contracting firm that operates in 17 countries. She also served on the executive team with two municipal transit agencies, in Atlanta and New Orleans.

Related: Four finalists chosen in search for next leader of Hillsborough’s transit agency

GovHR USA, the consultant coordinating the transit agency’s national recruitment process, received more than 160 applications for the chief executive’s job, narrowing the field to eight for board consideration. They invited four for one-on-one interviews with board members and then a marathon series of interviews Monday afternoon that were open to the public.

The candidates were asked to describe how they would chart a new path for the agency during their first 90 days on the job.

A close runner-up, and the board’s “backup” candidate should contract negotiations with Le Grand fall through, is Bernard Jackson of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Other finalists interviewed Monday were Henry Ikwut–Ukwa of the Atlanta BeltLine and James E. Price of Hampton Roads Transit in Virginia.

This was HART’s second national chief executive search in as many years and came at a time when the agency faces an uncertain future. The last leader, Ben Limmer, resigned in March after an investigation into purchasing and vendor relations. Limmer was on the job less than a year.

Carolyn House Stewart, the agency’s head of risk and legal, served as interim chief after Limmer was placed on leave in November but resigned the position last month without providing a written reason. The transit board appointed deputy chief of transportation Ruthie Reyes Burckard at their Oct. 14 meeting to serve as interim chief executive while continuing the national search.

Le Grand said her plan is to emphasize customers, motivate staff and engage stakeholders, especially with the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

Related: Justices question validity of Hillsborough transportation tax

Tampa Mayyor Jane Castor, one of the 15 transit agency board members, told Le Grand she appreciated the way the candidate aimds to serve all customers without distinguishing between those who choose to ride the bus and those who have no other options.

“One of the things that I was so impressed with was a way that you wove equality and inclusion into every aspect of your remarks, even dealing with the budget — dealing with HART team members, with the board, but most importantly, with HART customers,” Castor said.

If Le Grand accepts the position, she’ll be expected to lead the agency’s evaluation of future commuter rail on a CSX rail line and deal with budget challenges.

The transit agency is poised to nearly double its budget if the Florida Supreme Court upholds a one-cent transportation sales tax voters approved in 2018. None of the revenue now being collected has been spent.

Because of the coronavirus, buses have seen a 60 percent decline in ridership, cutting deeper into the agency’s pockets. Post-pandemic life will present the new challenge of ensuring the health and safety of employees and riders.

“It was evident to the entire board of directors that Ms. Le Grand will rebuild and revision HART by building trust through transparency and respect with employees, customers and the community,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Mariella Smith, chair woman of the transit agency board.

The next step is a background check and negotiating a contract for approval at the board’s December meeting.

The chief executive’s salary was advertised at $200,000 to $250,000 a year.