'Dictator and tyrant': HART director's leaked resignation letter alleges hostile behavior from CEO

HART's public records team couldn't find the document for months, but it was provided to CL by a confidential source.

click to enlarge 'Dictator and tyrant': HART director's leaked resignation letter alleges hostile behavior from CEO (2)

A leaked letter from a former director at Hillsborough Area Regional Transit claims that the CEO acted as "a dictator and tyrant."

In the letter obtained by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, former Director of Communications and Marketing Nikki Frenney aired her grievances before she left the organization last April.

Since August, CL has sent HART's public records team multiple requests for the letter, but was told that it could not be found. This week, the letter was shared by a source that wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution.

The same source alleged that the document was purposefully kept from the public by higher-ups in the organization. Concealing the letter—or even not documenting it properly—would be a violation of  Florida's Sunshine Law and the Public Records Act, which require that such records be maintained by government agencies and provided upon request.

"It's often said that people quit bosses, not jobs," Frenney wrote in the letter addressed to CEO Adelee Le Grand, with former Chief Customer Experience Officer Teri Wright cc'd. "I tender my resignation due to the hostile work environment and toxic culture you have single-handedly created, your blatant disrespect for me and my position, and the distress you have caused me."

In the letter, Frenney pointed out that she had only been working for the organization for three-and-a-half months, but that she couldn't take it anymore. Frenney wrote the letter as part of her resignation, but declined to make any comment on the record this week.
Last week, HART terminated several high-ranking positions, including the most recent director of communications and marketing.

As of now, four communications directors have worked under Le Grand since she started at the organization in 2020. In March, CL found through public records that 50 administrative level employees had left HART, some also claiming a toxic workplace.

The recent employee exodus was mentioned in Frenney's resignation letter.

"It is clear that you have a problem with anyone who challenges your opinions and your defense mechanism is to ice us out and impede our success," Frenney wrote. "It's what you have systematically done to people who disagree with you or who you simply do not like or respect. You do not encourage an open exchange of ideas. You act as a dictator and tyrant."

Frenney mentioned  specific instances where Le Grand allegedly acted unprofessional, including multiple instances earlier this year where she was yelled at by the CEO for trying to get her to communicate with the media.

"While I attempted to defend my position, you continued to berate me in front of another employee as I stood in shock of your tone and demeanor," Frenney wrote.

Frenney demanded three months severance, claiming she had to break her lease in Tampa in order to move back home to Atlanta. CL has requested copies of Frenney's severance agreement, including any non-disclosure agreements she may have signed.

Le Grand told CL that she never came across Frenney's resignation letter.

"I can tell you unequivocally, I have never received a letter from Nikki. I've never seen the letter, I've never read the letter," Le Grand said. "I do not now, nor ever had in my possession a letter from Nikki."

When asked if she would like to see the letter so she can respond to it, Le Grand said she would have to check with HART's legal team and get back to CL, but did not respond to multiple requests for comment after that.
Today—after four months of repeated requests for Frenney's letter—HART's public records department said that it is now aware that CL has the letter.

"After a diligent search of all files and databases available, I still cannot locate a copy of the resignation letter to which you refer," a public record technician at HART wrote in the public request portal. "It is my understanding that you now have a copy of the letter, so I will go ahead and close this request."

CL asked HART to continue looking for the resignation letter.

Le Grand did mention it "was possible" that the former Chief Customer Experience Officer, Teri Wright, got possession of the letter and never brought it to her. When asked if she thought Wright would do that kind of thing based on her professional knowledge of her, Le Grand said, "I mean, obviously I didn't know her that well, because I didn't know she had two jobs."

Le Grand  is referring to a recent Tampa Bay Times article that discussed the fact that Wright was working another job in New Orleans while working for HART.

Multiple inside sources from HART told CL that Wright tried to resign when she got her other job in April, but that Le Grand asked her to stay and work both jobs to help her manage the organization.

Wright has not responded to several requests for comment.

In the closing of her letter, Frenney gave Le Grand some words of warning.

"The sheer number of employees who have resigned due to your abhorrent leadership style is vast and should be a cause of concern for the Board of Directors," Frenney wrote. "If you are allowed to continue to lead this way, HART will implode."

Michael Barfield of the Florida Center for Government Accountability said that the moment the resignation letter was created, it became public record.

"It's a violation of the Public Records Act for an agency to take months to not produce a record that clearly has in its possession somewhere," Barfield told CL. "The fact that they can't find it through a search is suspicious and does not seem genuine."

Barfield said that once the letter was written, it became bound by public records law, and any situation by any official to conceal it after it was created could have penalties.

"On the criminal side, it would  have to be proven that there was an intentional effort to violate the Public Records Act by not disclosing a record. So if there's evidence uncovered that shows any individual or individuals took steps to ensure that the record wasn't found, that would be a violation," Barfield said.
But Barfield added that even if there was no intent on behalf of HART to conceal the record,  a civil case under the public records law simply requires proof that the agency  had a document and it did not produce it when it was requested.

Barfield said that even if Le Grand had never held the letter, but instead had it read to her verbally, or was informed of it, the organization was still required to enter it into public records.

"It's just another example of a public servant trying to come up with a clever way to avoid the public records act," Barfield said.

As the turbulence continues at HART, several employees who are on their way out are being told in their severance contract that they cannot communicate with the press about their experience at the organization. The severance contracts also use misleading wording, saying that "the employee voluntarily resigns" from their position, even if they were terminated.

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia previously wrote for the USA Today Network, The Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Scalawag Magazine, and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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