HART board of directors will wait for independent investigation before deciding fate agency's CEO

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority's board of directors decided Monday to put off voting on the fate of the agency's embattled CEO until after it sees the results of an independent investigation.

During the board's meeting, members discussed how to handle a settlement offered by CEO Adelee Le Grand. Through her attorney, she proposed stepping down, while receiving the payout agreed to in her current contract: A 20-week lump sum payment, including accrued sick and vacation time. 

The agency could then end its investigation, which has lasted 100 days and cost the agency nearly $30,000.

RELATED: HART to launch external investigation into CEO after allegations of a hostile workplace

"I welcome the investigation. I welcome the opportunity to get beyond all of the allegations that were presented," Le Grand said during the meeting, adding she was told the investigation wouldn't last more than 60 days. "It came to the point where the best opportunity for the organization may be to have some closure, for me to move on, so that the organization can move forward."

Le Grand has faced accusations of creating a hostile work environment and mismanaging the agency, which included a high-paid staffer double-dipping, working jobs at transit authorities in both Tampa and New Orleans. Le Grand has said she was unaware and the employee no longer works for HART.

Board members, however, indicated they want to see the results of the investigation, which is being conducted by an independent attorney.

"You can't agree to the settlement unless you know what the investigation is all about," said Gwen Myers, a Hillsborough County commissioner who is also a member of the HART board. "Let's get the investigation, all the legal documents from our legal counsel, and we can discuss also systemic issues. Let's find out what all that is about."

HART's general counsel, David Smith, told FOX 13 he hasn't seen any of the preliminary findings of the investigation, but he has an idea of what will be revealed. His biggest clue: The investigating attorney recommended taking Le Grand's settlement offer.

"If he had found any of the reasons for terminating for cause, I think he would have said otherwise because then we don't have to pay the severance pay," Smith said. "Without telling me, per se, he told me this is a good settlement. I think that means we don't have, at this point, any information that finds termination for cause."

Hillsborough Commissioner Joshua Wostal, meanwhile, was among the board members who aren't ready to sign off on a settlement. He said the board learned HART is facing potential bankruptcy in 2024, and he wants to know whether Le Grand's leadership is partially to blame.

"That mass transit system is about to go bankrupt and for us to potentially reward bad acting is unacceptable to me for taxpayers," Wostal said.

Le Grand’s settlement proposal included a stipulation that, "no written report [of the investigation] shall be prepared, and no oral report shall be given." Smith, however, indicated the investigations findings will be made public.

Le Grand, meanwhile, has defended her job as CEO, pointing out she was hired as the sixth CEO in four years and was tasked with making tough decisions that would overhaul the agency.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has been among Le Grand's supporters on the board.

"We owe the public a factual report of what is going on here in HART," Castor said, who believes HART should look into merging with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority due to HART's systemic issues.

Smith expects the investigation to wrap up in the next seven to 10 days. After that, a special HART board meeting will be held to discuss the next steps. That meeting is expected to take place March 20.