How can a person serve simultaneously as an executive of two mass transit agencies 600 miles apart? And what kind of operation allows that to go under the radar? That’s what the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority needs to explain about Teri Wright’s employment.
As the Tampa Bay Times’ Olivia George reported, Wright had since April been collecting salaries from two public agencies in two states, totaling more than $350,000 per year. She had been serving as HART’s chief customer experience officer since February 2021, earning more than $200,000. But in April, Wright also became the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s senior director of communications, with a starting salary in Louisiana of $155,000. When George first reported Wright’s dual employment this month, officials with both agencies told the Times they didn’t know she had two jobs.
HART policy states that “its employees’ first employment-related allegiance” lies with that agency, and it requires employees seeking outside work to submit a request and obtain approval from top HART officials. There is no indication Wright sought such approval, according to a review of her personnel file by the Times. HART chief executive Adelee Le Grand said Wright reported directly to her and that she was unaware of Wright’s dual employment. Le Grand said that Wright’s last day at the agency was earlier this month, and that her departure was “mutually agreed upon.”
That cannot be the last word. What happens to Wright in New Orleans is between her and that agency. But how were high level executives in Hillsborough unaware that HART’s fourth-highest paid staffer was apparently moonlighting? Current and former HART employees told the Times that Wright’s New Orleans deal was something of an “open secret” in the workplace here. One former employee described Wright as Le Grand’s “right hand.” At best, this episode reflects a serious management problem that HART’s board of directors must address.
The board should order an outside investigation into the circumstances of Wright’s employment. HART staffers need to be protected for speaking candidly during the inquiry. And the findings should be presented fully, publicly and in writing within a reasonable time.
Mass transit in Hillsborough is in bad enough shape without more bad press for the agency that runs it. HART’s board needs to provide taxpayers some answers and get more serious about its oversight role.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.