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Tampa Bay Partnership doesn’t think HART’s CEO candidates are experienced enough

The Tampa Bay Partnership doesn’t think the candidates selected to lead Hillsborough County’s transit agency are experienced enough to lead the agency through a period of rebuilding and expanding expected as its budget soars from just $80 million annually to $200 million.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority’s Board of Directors short-listed four candidates for the agency’s next CEO this week. Those candidates come from agencies in Jacksonville, Atlanta and Lexington, Kentucky as well as one internal candidate looking for a promotion.

The three outside candidates come from agencies either smaller than HART will be once it realizes the additional revenue from the 1 percent sales surtax voters approved in November for transportation improvements or who lack top-level leadership experience.

it is incumbent upon the HART Board of Directors to select a proven leader, deserving of this responsibility, who can usher in a new era for transportation in Hillsborough County and in Tampa Bay. The stakes are too high to not get this right,” The Partnership wrote in a letter to HART Board Chair Les Miller.

Tampa Bay Partnership Board Chair David Pizzo and Transportation Working Group Co-Chairs Barry Shevlin and Chad Loar signed the letter.

In it, they suggest HART expand its list of potential CEO hires beyond the four it has short-listed and slow down its hiring process.

HART has been without a permanent CEO since late 2017 when former CEO Katharine Eagan left to take the helm of a Pittsburgh area transit agency that is much larger than HART. HART CFO Jeff Seward has been serving as interim CEO. He did not apply for the position permanently.

Even though the search has already been underway for a substantial time period, the Tampa Bay Partnership feels more time is warranted considering upcoming changes to the agency’s buying power with additional financial resources.

“Throughout the years, we’ve seen our HART executives make the most of limited resources and navigate a challenging political landscape. We’ve witnessed the development of talent, and watched as [that talent] moved on to other communities,” the letter reads. “But with a budget over $200 million, and an estimated $4 billion in new revenue over the next 30 years, this is no longer a job for someone to learn as they go, or to use HART as a stepping stone to build a career.”

“If we intend to use these resources to provide world-class transportation services, we need a seasoned executive with experience in building and managing a top-tier transit agency.”

In its letter, the Partnership applauds HART for hiring an outside talent agency to search for a new CEO, but laments that the current short list is not good enough.

“This is a game-changer for our entire region and, arguably, the single most important moment in the history of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority,” the letter continued.

The Partnership further suggests that if the HART Board and talent search agency cannot identify the right candidate, it should hit the brakes on the current search and start from scratch.

“Expediency should not drive this process. Our expectations are high, and we shouldn’t settle for less.”

Currently, the HART Board of Directors is scheduled to view three-minute videos from the four candidates and then proceed to interviews in February.  

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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