TAMPA — Hillsborough County’s transit authority board is prepared to approve a $250,000 salary for its next chief executive officer — the highest in the history of the financially constrained agency.
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority voted on Nov. 2 to select Adelee Le Grand as its next chief executive. But Le Grand has yet to sign a contract and is negotiating with the agency after what the transit authority’s attorney said was a miscommunication.
The opening was advertised with a salary range of $210,000 to $250,000. But Le Grand told the transit board Monday that she was lead to believe the salary could go higher, if the candidate was qualified.
“My response was I’d be looking for a salary over 250, because I’m over that right now,” Le Grand said. “That being said, I also understand that there sometimes are some errors in how thing are presented, and I am still committed to working with HART to transform the organization during this time.”
Le Grand had asked to make $288,000 in a yearly salary as the leader of the transit agency and told David Smith, the agency’s attorney, that $250,000 was “a significant decrease” from her current pay. Le Grand is a vice president with Illinois-based Transdev North America, part of a public transit contracting firm that operates in 17 countries.
In order to get her closer to her original ask, Le Grand is requesting up to $50,000 to cover moving expenses and temporary housing and $300 bi-weekly to pay for a car.
She also asked for a 15 percent raise that would be triggered by one of three things: ridership returning to pre-pandemic numbers, the Florida Supreme Court rules that a 2018 transportation sales tax is valid and the revenue becomes available, or a new funding source becomes available.
Board members were hesitant to approve a raise in advance, but were less concerned with the moving expenses or car allowance for the transit leader.
Temple Terrace representative Gil Schisler said he was concerned that an automatic raise would constrain a budget that is already stretched “paper thin.”
“I think we’re writing checks that we don’t know if we’re going to be able to cash,” Schisler said. “I’m a little concerned with the financial impact we’re creating for ourselves going forward.”
Board member Tyler Hudson proposed that instead of making it an automatic raise, any of those three events would trigger an interim performance review for Le Grand. Then the board would decide if a raise was merited and if so, how much.
“I don’t believe we can be in a position of automatically granting compensation increases based on future events, but any of those future events certainly merit a conversation,” Hudson said.
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The board approved his motion unanimously after significant discussion and gave board chair Mariella Smith authority to approve the contract before next month’s meeting.
The agency, which has long been one of the most underfunded transit agencies in the country for a region its size, recently approved its largest budget to date.
The transit authority is poised to spend more than $150 million this year on bus service, new vehicles, a maintenance building, employee benefits and other costs. This comes in spite of declining ridership, complications from COVID-19, and the uncertainty of a one-cent transportation sales tax currently under review by the Florida Supreme Court.
Interim chief financial officer Cyndy Stiglich said Le Grand’s original ask was “over capacity in our budget.” She said the agency did have room for a $230,000 salary with additional pension contributions, but that did not include relocation expenses, a housing allowance or a car stipend.
Ben Limmer, the previous chief executive who resigned after a year on the job, made $210,000. Katharine Eagan, who held the job for three years, made $183,000.
Smith said the $50,000 Le Grand requested for moving expenses was comparable to the $48,000 the agency gave to David Armijo in 2007. Armijo moved cross county from Los Angeles to serve as chief executive of the agency.
The agency paid about $22,000 to move Limmer and his family from Atlanta and to cover six months of temporary housing in 2019. Le Grand will also be moving from Atlanta.
Le Grand, who has four children, asked for $3,000 per month for up to six months to pay for housing while her family looks for a new home. That would be included in the $50,000 and leaves a balance of $32,000 to cover the cost of packing, moving, unpacking and travel to Tampa and from Atlanta. She would have to submit documentation and receipts to receive that reimbursement.
Addison Davis was hired earlier this year as the superintendent for Hillsborough County Public Schools and makes a salary of $310,000. Davis oversees 24,000 employees and a $3.2 billion budget. Davis, who moved from Clay County near Jacksonville, was given $3,000 per month for four months to pay for temporary housing while he looked for a new home. He then received up to $7,000 in moving expenses.