Something smells at Hillsborough County’s transit agency. Taxpayers paid for an investigation into mismanagement by the agency’s chief executive, but now that the report is nearly complete, those same taxpayers may not be allowed to see the findings. Hiding the truth will only raise more questions, undermining the agency’s ability to move forward. Board members should choose transparency, not suppression. Air out what happened. Let sunlight work its disinfecting magic.
Adelee Le Grand has run the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority for two years. She is the highest paid CEO in the agency’s history, and she arrived with hopes high that she could get the chronically underfunded and troubled agency back on track. The investigation into mismanagement began last year after a Tampa Bay Times report revealed that the agency’s fourth-highest paid staffer was also working for the public transit agency in New Orleans, in violation of the employment policies of both agencies. The staffer, who later resigned, reported directly to Le Grand.
Subsequent reporting by the Times’ Olivia George revealed high turnover, longstanding vacancies of senior positions and a financial department stretched so thin that it made errors, including underreporting $361,000 in federal expenditures and understating inventory by about $159,000. Current and former employees also described an atmosphere of fear and secrecy. One letter writer said that Le Grand and another leader created “a hostile, abusive and highly unstable work environment” that drove away talented and dedicated staff.
The Tampa attorney hired to investigate the allegations was scheduled to deliver his findings to the public and the HART board on Monday. But Le Grand’s attorney has made an offer to settle. If the board agrees, Le Grand would leave as early as the end of May in return for the findings of the report never becoming public. On her way out the door, she also wants a lump sum of more than $110,000 and pay for her accrued sick and annual leave. Yes, you’ve got that right — she doesn’t want taxpayers to know what she did or didn’t do, and she also wants those same taxpayers to pay her for the privilege. That is some first-class hutzpah.
But there’s more! HART’s attorneys have recommended that the board accept the offer. They haven’t publicly explained why. Are they trying to avoid entangling HART in a lawsuit? In general, that’s not a bad instinct, but it must be weighed against what’s lost — in this case, the public’s right to know the details of potential mismanagement within a government agency. If the investigation found deep-seated misconduct, Le Grand’s departure won’t help much. There would have to be a more thorough cleansing. But how will the public know if the report is suppressed?
Hillsborough County Commissioner and HART board member Joshua Wostal called the proposal a “slap in the face” to taxpayers. So far the investigation has cost about $28,000.
“The voters paid for it,” he told The Times on Thursday. “They deserve to see what’s in it.”
We couldn’t agree more.
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