“I do have confidence in [HART CEO] Adelee Le Grand,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor told WUSF on February 14 this year. “And I hope that this investigation shows that she didn’t have involvement in the issue that is being looked into.”
Those comments comment a mere 11 weeks ago stand in stark contrast to Castor’s comments today at a HART.
“This relationship has got to be severed,” Castor said today before she voted with the rest of the HART board to end Le Grand’s tenure at HART. “And it is better to get it over with sooner rather than later, and without drawing it out through litigation.” Castor voted to approve a $88,500 settlement agreement with Le Grande that ended her tenure at HART.
Notably, Castor’s tongue bath of Le Grand this past Valentine’s day happened during an ongoing investigation into improprieties that were later substantiated (and then some).
Here’s that deal that the HART board approved today: Le Grand gets those tens of thousand of tax dollars, with no deduction for her five-month long paid leave, ceases to be an employee of HART immediately… and that is the end of Le Grand’s disastrous tenure at HART.
When the investigation began five months ago, Castor was also opposed to suspending LeGrand during the investigation. “I think it’s premature, and I disagree with placing her on leave at this time,” Castor said at the time. The investigation later found that Le Grand violated agency policy and state law.
“We hired her to change this organization for the better,” Castor also said when the investigation began five months ago. “And I think that we should allow her to continue to do her job with strict instructions to steer clear of this investigation.”
Castor’s about-face on Le Grand was in three steps, unlike a standard two step military about-face. Castor went from having a hand in Le Grand’s hiring, to a position of being agnostic about the accusations against Le Grand, to having “hope” that they weren’t true, to finally distancing herself from Le Grande in double time.
All these shifts within just five months.
In just half that time, 11 weeks to be precise, Castor also went from that “hope” to looking like a dope walking a political tightrope as the Florida Legislature with a Republican supermajority is increasingly asking questions about Florida’s failing transit agencies. Bills have been filed in the current legislative session seeking to dissolve HART, or to “transferring governance” to an unspecified agency.
“I fully support a suspension,” newly elected Hillsborough County Commissioner Joshua Wostal said when the investigation began five months ago. “I absolutely can’t get on board with accepting some type of severance [pay] without first hearing the alleged exculpatory evidence,” Wostal said today (see video in article) before finally voting for the settlement.
“In the end, I voted for the severance because Le Grand was already going to contractually get about $50,000,” Wostal said. “Our legal counsel told the board that legal fees could end up being half a million dollars. Therefore, I thought the extra $38,000 or so was cheap given the legal risk.”
“Our main outside labor counsel told us that under Florida law, if the court had awarded Le Grand even one dollar, then we would have to pay all her legal fees,” Wostal added.
“The reason I voted to suspend Le Grand in December is because we had information already then that she knew for two weeks about HART executive Teri Wright’s policy violating dual employment at another transit agency.” Wostal told the Guardian. “Le Grand withheld that information from HART board chair Pat Kemp.”
An important element for Wostal in deciding to send Le Grand packing was that the investigator verified that a APTA (American Public Transportation Association) report was in fact a review of Le Grand, and it was suppressed by Le Grand for a year.” APTA CEO David Carol claimed in January that the report was not about Le Grand, but HART’s outside investigator found otherwise.
Wostal owns and operates a UPS store in West Tampa. With no experience in elected office, Wostal was elected to the Hillsborough County Commission six months ago, handily defeating then Hillsborough County Commission chair Kimberly Overman in a result that surprised many in the political class. Wostal campaigned in part on reform of mismanaged transit.
Did an ordinary citizen with zero political background “get it right” and a seasoned political pro get it wrong in this latest HART fiasco?
As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.
EDITOR’S NOTE – we have reported extensively over the years on the systemic problems at HART, as well as on Castor’s well-heeled political donors, her participation in the meeting violating HART policy that unironically fired the last previous HART CEO for policy violations, as well as Castor’s unlawful use of city resources for her political campaign and political committee.