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HART suspends CEO Adelee Le Grand with pay following an investigation into her leadership

CEO Adelee Le Grand sitting at a table and speaking into a mic at a meeting, with a man in a blue suit sitting behind her.
Outside attorney David Adams described a culture among leadership where employees would be punished if they spoke out against Le Grand.

The report from an outside attorney described a culture at HART that lacks effective leadership, organizational morale, and experiences too much turnover.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority may soon be looking for a new permanent leader.

The board of directors voted on Monday to suspend HART CEO Adelee Le Grand with pay following the release of an investigation into the organization under her leadership.

The report from outside attorney David Adams described a culture at HART that lacks effective leadership, organizational morale, and experiences too much turnover.

"I believe Ms. Le Grand has created an environment of fear and intimidation,” Adams said. “The CEO's behavior has caused abnormal turnover. Agency communication is terrible because people are afraid to speak up. And last-minute layoffs, quits, and severance packages are expensive and violate HART policy, and state law, which limits the amount of severance that can be given to government employees.”

An example that Adams brought up was a lack of a strategic plan, which he said hasn’t been conducted by the agency in the past two years.

Adams brought up several employees who left under Le Grand's leadership, which they described in interviews with him as toxic.

“There's been comments about operating in silos previously,” read an exit interview from longtime HART employee Gregory Brackin. “That was nothing compared to the current environment. No communication at all from the CEO down to the employees. Mass exits of staff and inability to bring in replacements as further eroded the morale of those who are still here. Even new hires brought in are starting to leave.”

Adams also described an culture among leadership where employees would be punished if they spoke out against Le Grand.

“If these subject matter experts at times express a strong opinion or challenge CEO Le Grand, there's often retaliation according to the interviews I conducted,” Adams said. “Retaliation usually goes as follows: offensive employee gets isolated. The administration refuses to share key information with them. They refuse to communicate with the person. They ignore the chain of command and contact the offensive employee subordinates for information."

“Several people told me they heard Ms. Le Grand make the statement, ‘I don't fire anyone; I just wait for them to walk out the door.’ Unfortunately, this fits the isolation strategy that I've identified,” Adams said.

The culture led to significant turnover, according to Adams.

And while many people left the agency, several of them received hefty severance packages that cost the agency more than $526,000, not including health insurance benefits.

The investigation also looked into former employee Teri Wright, who was working for HART and a New Orleans-based transit agency at the same time, in violation of the agency's policy.

Adams describes Wright as Le Grand’s “right hand person.”

“Little to nothing happened at HART without Teri Wright’s approval,” Adams said.

He said there is “significant conflict” as to why Wright moved back to New Orleans, and when Le Grand became aware of her working for another agency.

Le Grand said in an interview with Adams that she believed Wright was moving back to New Orleans to help take care of a sick family member, which led to Le Grand approving her to work remotely.

“Teri Wright has a completely different story,” Adams said. “In March of 2022, Teri Wright accepted a job in New Orleans. She was done with HART, based on the interview she gave me, and she was going home.”

Adams findings concluded that while it's unknown exactly how long Le Grand knew about the conflict (an email in May 2022 showed that Le Grand did receive knowledge about Wright’s dual employment, but its unclear whether she read it), she did hide it from the board over the course of multiple meetings.

She also placed Wright on part-time employment, rather than immediately suspending her, which resulted in $23,000 in accrued vacation while she was working dual jobs.

Adams also clarified that a 2021 report from the American Public Transportation Association, which described similar issues at the agency, was conducted while looking at the current administration’s leadership, not previous leaders.

Le Grand's legal team told the board they would like to push back on the findings once they have enough time to prepare.

A special board meeting will be held in May, where a final decision on Le Grand will be made.

In the interim, HART's Chief of Maintenance and Transportation, Scott Drainville, will take over as CEO.

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.