As we reported here, Florida's Inspector General (IG) office needs to investigate and audit HART's operations for at least the last 10 years. The IG must identify any incompetence, fiscal irresponsibility and financial oversight mismanagement by HART's Board and HART's top administrators.
For years, HART employees and HART Board members refused to address HART's fiscal issues. Instead they banked on the $23 Billion transit tax to bail HART out. Those responsible should be held accountable and removed from their positions.
According to this report (emphasis mine), a special HART Board meeting was held the end of November after the 2022 election where the Board authorized an external investigation. The election made a small change to the membership of the HART Board and HART's transit tax bailout was defeated.
The special meeting, scheduled last week, took place the day after trustees of the union representing hundreds of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority employees called for the resignation of the agency’s CEO, Adelee Le Grand.
“HART has been in a downward spiral under the leadership of Adelee Le Grand,” ATU Local 1593 union representatives Ismael Rivera and Brenda Moore said in a statement issued late Monday. “Ms. Le Grand is ruling with an iron fist, it’s her way or the highway. Unfortunately, her highway leads to dysfunctional transit system.”
The authorization of an external investigation comes two 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.
Wostal [a newly elected Hillsborough County commissioner appointed to the HART Board] also questioned whether the office of the state’s inspector general could lead the investigation. Smith said the office primarily deals with fiscal irresponsibility, adding: “We do not know yet whether we have that problem. That’s not to say we don’t.” The investigation by Adams could lead to an investigation by the office, he said.
The investigation was supposed to be completed in 60 days.
The HART Board met February 6th and according to this report (emphasis mine):
At the board meeting Monday morning, 69 days later, there was little mention of the investigation.
There was, however, a detailed discussion of the agency’s uncertain financial future and a nod from the CEO that she is exploring “outsourcing opportunities” in an effort to reduce operating costs.
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is facing a fiscal cliff in 2024 — two years sooner than previous predictions. The shortfall is primarily due to operating costs both exceeding and growing at a faster rate than operating revenue.....
“Your COVID relief funds will be spent down sooner than we’d been assuming,” Vandegrift said. Those dollars are expected to be exhausted in the next annual budget and once they do, “we’re quickly in the negative,” she said.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp called the presentation “very sobering” but not surprising. “This is a reality I think we’ve been dealing with for a long time,” she said.
HART CEO Adelee Le Grand offered three potential cost-cutting avenues. Vacant positions that “do not need to be filled” will be removed for the next annual budget. Opportunities to “streamline and reduce redundancies within departments” will be assessed. And the agency will conduct “a better overall assessment of outsourcing opportunities.”
Le Grand joined HART in January 2020 from the private sector, becoming the highest-paid chief executive in the agency’s history, with $50,000 in relocation assistance and a starting salary higher than her predecessor.
Apparently the meeting ended with a statement that the lawyer hired for the external investigation will provide an "update" at the March Board meeting.
As reported last year, as HART's financial position was declining, the HART Board was handing out huge raises to their already highly paid administrators. It appears HART was spending their one-time COVID funds improperly.
Those pay raises included handing their new CEO Adelee Marie Le Grande, who had been in her job about a year, a $37,500 pay raise.
HART baked all those huge raises, handed out during a pandemic when others were losing their jobs and transit ridership continued tanking, into HART's future budgets. This fiscal irresponsibility and incompetence fueled HART's exploding operating expenses.
HART Board member County Commissioner Pat Kemp has sat on the HART Board since she was elected in 2016. She admits HART has had financial issues for years and years.
Yet Kemp and the previous Board approved all those egregious pay raises. They did little to nothing to stop HART's fiscal decline except to push All for Transportation's $23 Billion transit tax that would have forced taxpayers to bail out HART.
Yes, HART has a problem with fiscal responsibility.
Yes, the Florida Inspector General's office must investigate and audit HART.
HART in its current structure is unsustainable.
Even HART's Mission Statement "The mission of the Hillsborough Transit Authority (HART) is to take people to the places that enhance their lives" is unspecific fairy dust and unicorns gobblygook. HART obviously needs a Mission Statement more grounded in the reality of the agency's fiscal position.
Perhaps the only way to salvage HART is to turn the transit agency over to a third party to operate or sell it off to a private enterprise and privatize Hillsborough County's transit services.