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HART's board is using an outside study to highlight its organizational shortcomings

HART bus parked at a bus stop
The review was completed in September of 2021 by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), pinpointing observations of a lack of resources, top-down communication, and outdated technology, among many other issues.

Some board members said the findings available are now outdated, since the report was finalized more than a year ago.

The board of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is evaluating a review of its organizational issues from an outside consultant group, which indicated problems including transparency, resistance to change, and a lack of effective leadership.

The review was completed in September 2021 by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), pinpointing such observations as a lack of resources, top-down communication, and outdated technology.

HART board member Pat Kemp said she leaned about the report's findings through media reports.

“I think it would have been very helpful for us as a board, in terms of how we move forward and understood the organization moving forward, to have this information,” Kemp said during a Monday morning HART board meeting.

The findings were split into three sections — organizational culture at HART, operations planning and organization, and finance planning and organization.

For the organizational culture, APTA found that there was a “good portion” of staff wanting to make positive change, while administration was “embedded, resistant to change, and unaccustomed to being held accountable.”

Operationally, the APTA observations found there was a low morale, a lack of effective leadership, resources, “top down and down up communication,” and “missing or broken processes.”

Financially, the report found that staff did a good job overall, but don’t know what success looks like because of frequent leadership changes.

Adelee Le Grand, HART's CEO, pushed for the study after she was hired in January 2021. She says hiding the study's results was never her intent, as “there are reviews that happen all the time.”

“We have FDOT reviews,” Le Grand said. “We have safety reviews. We do these reviews, those agencies present the issue or the findings, or the opportunities for us to make improvements, staff gets together, and we work on them and we implement the change.”

"I do not want to leave this meeting with this perception that there was a deliberate attempt to not share a document, from a CEO’s perspective who was brand new, that pretty much makes the case of all the things that I need to do to make this place better."

Le Grand also said some of the organizational issues that were highlighted were embedded before she took over the organization, and she said she was apprehensive to immediately implement large-scale changes as a new leader and with the COVID-19 pandemic still prevalent at the time.

She also said she’s already made some changes based off the findings, including hiring a chief of staff and a chief delivery officer.

Some board members said the findings available are now outdated, since the report was finalized more than a year ago.

But board member Joshua Wostal said its important Le Grand take responsibility for the organization's shortcomings.

"I don't know why a finger keeps getting pointed at past CEOs, because this particular peer review is pointing to new management,” Wostal said. “Specifically, staff feels demoralized with new management, not old management."

Other board members agreed with the findings being hard to use to evaluate the current administration’s operations.

“This, as was described, was at the beginning of the hiring of a new CEO,” said Tampa Mayor and Board Member Jane Castor. “ [It was] a request to have a peer review team come in, assess the organization, and then develop an objective overall view that can be utilized by the CEO and the board to craft a strategy and organizational change moving forward. So I think we're getting wrapped around the axle here, on this particular report.”

The board agreed to take more time to dissect the findings over the course of several meetings.

The board will next discuss the report's findings during its Jan. 23 meeting.

They tied on a vote to launch a new study of the organization with the same outside firm, to provide an update on the year-old study.

LeGrand is currently under investigation and could potentially still be fired as CEO for not knowing that one of her highest-paid staffers was working for another transit agency at the same time.

That investigation should be complete in the coming months.

As a host and reporter for WUSF, my goal is to unearth and highlight issues that wouldn’t be covered otherwise. If I truly connect with my audience as I relay to them the day’s most important stories and make them think about an issue past the point that I’ve said it in a newscast, that’s a success in my eyes.