Former HART officials support accusations of mismanagement by CEO

The former employees claim safety and work culture issues as the HART Board seeks an investigation.

click to enlarge Former HART officials support accusations of mismanagement by CEO

As the board for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit agency pursues an investigation of management, former high-ranking employees are putting their grievances on the record.

Cherie Leporatti, former HART compliance officer, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that she was fired unjustly by CEO Adelee Le Grand on Nov. 15, 2021, the day that her mother was put in hospice care. Leporatti was in charge of making sure that the company was in compliance with its federal regulatory and legal requirements, as well as internal policies and bylaws.

Leporatti started at HART in 2017 and has over 20 years of experience in the transit industry. She developed several sections of HART’s employee handbook, developed the agency’s ethics program, conducted policy violation investigations for HART, managed the Equal Employment Opportunity Program, trained employees, and helped operate several other programs specifically linked to federal regulations and ethics.
Le Grand fired Leporatti after claiming that a document was shared in a nonsecure manner during an internal investigation at HART. But Leporatti says it was actually the former Director of Legal Services Jeremy Beasley—who left suddenly from HART earlier this year—who shared the document. Le Grand accused Leporatti of violating six company policies.

She believes that Le Grand fabricated a reason to fire her, to avoid her oversight as a compliance officer.

“She wants to be able to run the agency how she wants, regardless of public regulations or the law,” Leporatti told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. “And she’s destroying people’s lives.”

Leporatti is one of at least 57 administrative employees who have departed from HART since Le Grand became CEO in 2021, either through being terminated or walking away from the agency.

Le Grand has also gone through four marketing and communications directors. The third director wrote a resignation letter calling her a “dictator and tyrant” which, after months of denied public records requests, was leaked to CL last week.
The letter also aligned with Leporatti’s viewpoint, accusing Le Grand of targeting employees that she didn’t like to get rid of them. Also last week, the Tampa Bay Times reported that former Chief of Customer Experience Teri Wright, who was involved in Leporatti’s firing, was working a second job.

But as the HART Board prepares to discuss the details of the investigation into management in the coming weeks, Leporatti told CL that she hopes the board focuses on the big picture: that Le Grand is gutting the agency and making it unstable through unprofessional behavior.

During her time there, Leporatti said Le Grand was “hostile and aggressive” toward her and other employees, forcing many to leave if they weren’t fired.

“She’s rid the company of so many people with professional certifications and qualifications now, that I’m not sure how the organization can operate safely and properly,” Leporatti said. “So yeah, it’s scary.”

“She wants to be able to run the agency how she wants, regardless of public regulations or the law,” Leporatti told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. “And she’s destroying people’s lives.”

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Since her firing by Le Grand, her life has been upended. If she had resigned from the organization rather than be fired, she would have been able to collect a portion of the 380 hours of leave that she had accumulated, she says.

“I had to sell my home in Brandon and move south to live with relatives,” Leporatti said. “It took me eight months to find another job in my profession.”

When asked for a response, Le Grand said that because the board is moving forward with the investigation, it would be inappropriate for her to respond at this time.

“However, I look forward to the results of the outside investigation and recommendations that will improve our service and continue to create a positive and productive work environment,” Le Grand said. “I was hired to overcome HART’s troubled and hostile work environment. We have made progress but still have work to do.”
HART’s past two CEOs have also been the subject of investigations, with both being forced to resign.

Timothy Martin, a former safety and security specialist for HART, says that Le Grand was anything but transparent and accountable, and that there were many glaring safety issues when he left the organization back in April.

Martin told CL that upper management conducted “botchy” investigations into safety issues within the company, and that even before he left, the staff was stretched thin.

“There are multiple people that are doing two and three people's jobs that are not getting compensated for their job performance, so people are leaving,” Martin said. “And it’s just sad when we have to go look for other jobs because I'm worried about the sanity of my family and I'm worried about the safety of myself and other people.”

Martin was responsible for compliance and safety inspections, hazard identification, among other safety-related responsibilities. While he never interacted with Le Grand directly, Martin said that she instructed his department “not to have communication with the board members, period, unless she knows about it first.”

They were told all communications had to go through the legal department before they went to the board, Martin said.

“While the CEO was putting all these big statements together to impress the board, saying we're going to come up with new, brighter ideas, we're going to keep moving forward, the company was ignoring the basic operations that keep things running and safe,” Martin said.
Martin once aided Tampa police officers to stop an attacker and was investigated by HART management for it in 2017, but did not get punished, after news reports surfaced calling him a good samaritan. Martin said that HART’s contracted security team is not properly trained and claimed that several people working in highly sensitive positions have not received correct training. He left Florida for a job in another state.

Leporatti filed a case with the U.S. Department of Labor about the treatment she received at HART, and CL has contacted the agent in charge to get the file related to her case.

This latest former employee input lines up with what several current and former employees have said on background over the past year, out of fear of retribution or of finding it difficult to find another job in the industry for speaking out.

During the HART meeting yesterday where the investigation was announced, an anonymous employee wrote a public comment about a letter sent to staff from Le Grand around 11 p.m. on Nov. 15. The letter was sent the same day that CL published a story containing accusations against Le Grand from a former communications director.

“Employees received an email from Le Grand in the wake of unflattering news articles about the HART culture and more importantly, accurate reporting of how Le Grand behaves in the workplace,” the letter, which was read aloud to HART board members said.
In the letter, Le Grand told employees that “feathers will be ruffled” during times of change, but that she remained committed to the organization’s mission, and asked the remaining employees to join her in that mission.

But the anonymous letter added that current and former employees are mobilizing to push back against their treatment at HART.

“So you can understand the gravity of this public comment, employees are exploring the options of legal representation and filing individual state ethics complaints regarding unfair employment practices,” the letter read.

In response, HART Board Chair Pat Kemp said the investigation will be conducted as soon as possible.

"I want to let board members and the public know that the Board of HART takes very seriously the management issues that we've been hearing and reading about," Kemp said. 

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network 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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