TAMPA — The chief executive of Hillsborough County’s transit agency will continue at the helm while the agency faces an external investigation into allegations of a hostile work environment and the double-dipping of a top staffer who was simultaneously working for a public agency in another state.
Chairperson of the Board of Directors and County Commissioner Pat Kemp introduced a motion to place Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority CEO Adelee Le Grand on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation at a board meeting Monday morning.
Six board members — including Kemp and the two newest members of the board — voted for the motion, while six voted against. The tiebreak resulted in the motion failing, de facto leaving Le Grand in place.
Among those who voted against the motion was Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, stressing the need for stability at the agency, which has faced a yearslong tidal wave of controversy and a revolving door of chief executives.
“At the very time that HART needs leadership, we are talking about benching leadership,” Castor said.
The board authorized the investigation — which will be led by Tampa attorney David Adams — at a special meeting on Nov. 29. The authorization was given a day after trustees of the union representing hundreds of Hillsborough transit employees called for Le Grand’s resignation. She has held the top job since the start of last year.
At the Monday meeting, board members discussed the dual need of ensuring the continued operation of the agency and the safeguarding of the independent investigation.
“With hesitation, I will go for suspension,” said Tampa City Council member Luis Viera, who voted for the motion.
“I could go either way,” said Gwen Myers, who ultimately also supported suspension.
While conducting the investigation, set to be limited to 60 days, Adams will report to HART general counsel David Smith, who reports directly to the board, not the CEO.
In an email to board members on Friday, Smith said: “the easiest way to protect the total integrity of the process and give all of the players assurance that it will be untainted, fair, and accurate is to suspend the CEO with pay.”
But Smith also offered an alternative path forward. The board must tell the CEO that interference in the investigation will not be tolerated and any effort by her or anyone at her behest will result “in suspension and possibly disciplinary action consistent with HART policies,” he wrote in the email, reviewed by the Tampa Bay Times.
“I have no desire to interfere with the process,” Le Grand said at Monday’s meeting, when asked by HART board member and Temple Terrace Vice Mayor Gil Schisler for confirmation.
An independent hotline will also be set up for people to report alleged interference.
The authorization of an external investigation comes three weeks after it was revealed the agency’s fourth-highest paid staffer was also working for the public transit agency in New Orleans — netting more than $350,000 per year and violating both agency’s employment policies, the Tampa Bay Times previously reported.
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Officials with both agencies told the Times that they didn’t know she had two jobs. The discovery has raised broader questions about the practices of Le Grand. Teri Wright had reported directly to Le Grand, who maintains she was unaware of Wright’s dual employment. Wright’s last day with HART was Nov. 7.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.