Amid controversy, HART CEO remains “determined” to push forward

“In making the tough decisions required to change the status quo, feathers will no doubt be ruffled,” the CEO said in a memo.
Passengers wait to get on a bus at the HART Transit Center in downtown Tampa on Tuesday, July 26, 2022.
Passengers wait to get on a bus at the HART Transit Center in downtown Tampa on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Nov. 17, 2022|Updated Nov. 17, 2022

As suspicions swirl and claims of a toxic workplace boil, the chief executive of Hillsborough County’s public transit authority issued a memo to employees Tuesday doubling down on her commitment to the agency.

“The commuters of the Tampa Bay region deserve a reliable transit system that works better for them. I am determined to make that happen,” wrote Adelee Le Grand, who has held the top position since the start of last year. “In making the tough decisions required to change the status quo, feathers will no doubt be ruffled.”

The memo, which was reviewed by the Tampa Bay Times, came a day after it was revealed the agency’s fourth-highest paid staffer was simultaneously working for a Louisiana public transit agency. Officials with both agencies told the Times that they didn’t know she had two jobs.

Since April, Teri Wright was collecting salaries from two public agencies in two states, netting more than $350,000 per year.

She had been serving as the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority’s chief customer experience officer since February last year, earning more than $200,000. But in April, she became the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s senior director of communications, the Times previously reported. Her starting salary in Louisiana was $155,000.

Wright has been placed on leave from the New Orleans agency. At a budget meeting Tuesday, a chief executive told New Orleans city council members his team is “thoroughly, without haste, investigating that matter and taking the appropriate actions.”

New Orleans City Councilman J.P. Morrell stressed the importance of public trust and making sure “money is going towards transportation, not towards shenanigans like this.”

In Hillsborough, the discovery raised broader questions about Le Grand’s leadership style and the way the transit agency operates. Wright had directly reported to Le Grand, though Le Grand has denied having any knowledge of the dual employment.

Current and former HART employees have disputed that, saying Wright’s New Orleans situation was something of a workplace “open secret.” One of the former employees, who did not want their name disclosed because they are worried about possible retaliation, described Wright as Le Grand’s “right hand.”

The chief customer experience officer was charged with playing a “critical role as a collaborator and connector” across the HART departments, according to agency documents. Job responsibilities include driving improved customer satisfaction, implementing industry best practices and ensuring rider priorities are considered across the agency’s operations.

Adelee Le Grand
Adelee Le Grand [ Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority ]
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Related: Hillsborough transit employee also secretly worked for a New Orleans agency

Wright’s final day at HART was last Monday, Le Grand said, adding that her departure was “mutually agreed upon.”

The issue comes as the agency, long embroiled in controversy, faces a precarious fiscal future and high staff turnover. Last week, the agency terminated several senior roles including the director of safety and security and the director of human resources, according to HART spokesperson Frank Wyszynski.

Le Grand explained these decisions as part of a budget-tightening effort after Hillsborough voters rejected a 1% transportation sales tax which would have supplied the agency with an additional, steady revenue source.

But this reasoning and the immediacy of the terminations has stirred confusion and fear among staff. The agency was required to submit a budget that didn’t count on passage of the sales tax.

HART employees seeking secondary employment must complete an Outside Employment Request Form and obtain initial approval from their supervisor and the director of human resources, with final approval by the equal employment opportunity officer, according to the employee handbook. There is no indication that Wright sought such approval, according to her personnel file which was reviewed by the Times.

A transit agency employee in New Orleans is also required to obtain approval from their department head before taking on another job. Wright did not seek this approval, according to the agency.

Before joining HART, Wright had worked at the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority as director of customer experience from August 2017 until leaving Feb. 5, 2021.

When HART hired Wright as chief customer experience officer, the agency offered her $10,000 to cover costs associated with relocating to the Tampa Bay region, according to personnel files. It remains unclear when Wright moved to the area and for how long she stayed.

Amid controversy, Le Grand continues to look to the future. In the memo she penned to HART employees Tuesday, she wrote: “I am proud of the organization we are building, and excited for the work ahead.”