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HART fires CEO Ben Limmer after whistleblower prompts investigation

Limmer’s ouster comes after a three-month investigation.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board of directors fired its CEO Friday after complaints he had violated several agency policies.

A three-month investigation found Benjamin Limmer had violated a total of eight policies.

A whistleblower complaint prompted the investigation, which resulted in a 76-page report outlining how Limmer had steered HART contracts to certain vendors, hired an outside law firm without approval and improper use of his purchasing card.

In a statement after his firing, Limmer acknowledged mistakes, but argued they were without malice.

“When I arrived last spring, I was tasked by this board to transform HART into the world-class transit agency that Hillsborough County deserves. That transformation required bold action, a new executive team, and a complete internal review of policies ranging from how we hire people to how we deliver great service to our customers. As I focused on the new direction of our agency, I made avoidable errors in regards to some internal policies.  However, those errors were not intentional,” Limmer said. “I want to thank the hundreds of HART employees who have stood by me during this process and who will continue to serve the people of Hillsborough County.”

The board voted to fire Limmer 11-1. Marvin Knight was the lone no vote.

Limmer had been with the agency just seven months when the whistleblower complaint came in November.

He was hired after a protracted search to replace former CEO Katharine Eagan who left the agency in late 2017 to head the Port Authority for Allegheny County in the Pittsburgh area.

His hire came at a pivotal moment for HART as it was preparing plans for a windfall of new revenue related to the All For Transportation 1% sales surtax voters approved last November.

The HART Board tapped Carolyn House Stewart as interim CEO pending the investigation and she will continue in that role as the agency will now need to begin a new executive search.

Limmer earned $210,000 a year and oversees a $120 million annual budget.

Board members on Friday heard from Carlton Fields on the findings of the investigation. Limmer’s attorney, Ryan Barack, presented on his behalf, to no avail.

“The investigation verifies a pattern of deliberate and willful violations of policies in several different areas,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “It wasn’t a one-time incident or misunderstanding on Mr. Limmer’s part.”

Limmer’s ouster comes as a crucial case is waiting for a decision from the Florida Supreme Court regarding the voter-approved 1% sales tax to fund sweeping transportation and transit improvements.

Two individuals, including Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, are trying to overturn the tax. The Supreme Court decision is expected in four to six weeks.

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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