TAMPA — The board of the transit agency serving Hillsborough County voted unanimously to place its chief executive officer on paid administrative leave Monday afternoon, following a monthslong external investigation into alleged mismanagement.
Adelee Le Grand has held the top position since January 2021, earning more than any other leader in the agency’s history and coming under fire following high-profile vacancies, swift turnover and revelations that the agency’s fourth-highest paid staffer was also working for a public transit agency in another state.
Investigating attorney David Adams found three weaknesses in the organizational culture of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority: lack of effective leadership, poor organization morale and significant turnover. He interviewed roughly 50 current and former employees and reviewed thousands of pages of public records.
The churn also cost the cash-strapped agency hundreds of thousands of dollars in severance packages — some of which, Adams concluded, violated agency policy and state law.
The agency’s former director of communications and marketing, Nikki Frenney, for example, received three months of severance pay, as well as sick payout and unearned vacation time, Adams said.
“She’d been with the agency only three months, yet HART paid her out $48,000,” he said. He couldn’t find trace of a severance agreement in the agency’s records which, he added, was part of a broader pattern of missing documentation under Le Grand’s leadership.
“There’s no question CEO Le Grand does not like public records,” Adams said, adding that he’d heard multiple instances of Le Grand telling staff: “Don’t write things down. Otherwise, it creates a public record.”
Le Grand did not comment on Adams’ findings at the Monday meeting. “There is contrary evidence that is strong and persuasive,” said her attorney, Steven Wenzel.
Scott Drainville, the agency’s current chief of transportation and maintenance, has been placed as interim CEO.
“This is a surprise,” he said at the meeting. “But yes, I accept.”
Tampa City Council member and board chairperson Luis Viera commended his willingness to step in. “These are troubling times on a number of fronts,” he said.
The investigation into complaints accusing Le Grand of mismanagement began late last year after the Tampa Bay Times revealed HART’s chief customer experience officer was also working for the public transit agency in New Orleans — netting more than $350,000 per year and violating the employment policies of both agencies. Teri Wright reported directly to Le Grand.
To date, Adams’ firm has billed the transit agency $28,811.49 to conduct the investigation. The most recent invoice was dated Feb. 22, according to public records. His findings expand on much of what the Times reported in December about an atmosphere of fear and secrecy at the Hillsborough transit agency.
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The findings come as Tallahassee is mulling a bill that would require the Florida Department of Transportation to study the dissolution of the agency, long teetering financially and facing a fiscal cliff next year.
“You have our support, we ask for your patience,” Temple Terrace Vice Mayor and HART board member Gil Schisler said at the meeting, in a message to the agency’s employees. “There’s some pretty rough information coming out today, and perhaps in the future.”