HART CEO David Armijo placed on two-week paid suspension as law firm investigates employee complaints

But among board members, only Fran Davin publicly indicated that she had read the Sentinel-Bulletin story, though even she said she felt she was being forced to make a decision regarding HART's CEO "with blinders on."  HART attorney Mary Ann Stiles said she felt the same way.  The rest of the board members also said they were clueless about the allegations, and repeatedly asked Siler-Nixon why suspension was necessary.  She said that she could safely say that after practicing employment law for nearly 20 years,  "the typical course of action before beginning any investigation is to place the individual on a paid leave of absence."

At one point board members Steven Polzin asked Stiles if there was any way they could get around Sunshine laws to discuss the accusations in private.  That prompted WTSP Channel 10 news reporter Mike Deeson to rise dramatically and say if there was going to be any motion out of the Sunshine that they delay the meeting so he could call an attorney to protest such an action.

With board members expressing reluctance to support Polzin's motion to support the suspension, an alternative was proposed to have Siler-Nixon meet individually with each board member to discuss the charges, which would not be a Sunshine violation. The idea was that after that had occurred, the board could then opt to vote to suspend or not.  But others said that would be completely unfair to Armijo, since it would play into the idea that the allegations were of such a serious nature that he somehow deserved such approbation.

Part of the reason for the board's shared lack of information about the issue was a shared breakdown in communications. Clark Jordan-Holmes has been the HART board's attorney, but at least for now he's been replaced by Mary Ann Stiles (both work at the law firm of Stiles, Taylor & Grace). "Clark has not briefed me," she told board members.

Immediately after the meeting ended, Armijo walked out of the conference room in HART's Ybor offices into the regular office space area, where HART Public Information Officer Marcia Mejia made sure to block reporters from entering the space.

Armijo has been with HART since 2007.  UPDATE: Approximately three hours after the meeting concluded Monday, Armijo issued this press release:

“HART’s main priority is to serve our customers as best and as efficiently as possible, and it’s because of the hard work performed by our employees who make this service possible. To this end, employee concerns that inhibit them from providing excellent customer service are taken very seriously by me, as well as managers and supervisors at all levels, and various recourses at HART exist to seek resolutions. Although I have no personal knowledge of the allegations at hand, I do recognize the importance of allowing all parties the opportunity to comprehensively and impartially review them. Because of the sensitivity of this matter, I cannot further comment on it, but I am confident this will be resolved as soon as findings are furnished.”

HART CEO David Armijo has been put on a two-week paid suspension.  The HART board voted for the suspension early Monday upon the recommendation of an employment attorney hired by the local transit agency, as they continue to look into allegations of wrongdoing regarding his hiring practices and treatment of employees.( UPDATE: Armijo issues press release.  Look below).

Only the chair of HART's board, Ron Govin, voted against the motion to suspend Armijo, but several if not most of the other members of HART's board, including County Commissioners Sandy Murman and Mark Sharpe, expressed extreme reluctance to do so, since they said they didn't have any facts to back up such a sanction.  Murman said at one point that she resented having the issue "thrown in my face."

But Dawn Siler-Nixon, an attorney with the employment law firm of Ford & Harrison, told the board that in order to complete a full investigation into the charges made by employees against Armjio, it was necessary to place him on suspension, saying this was the normal course in such situations.

"We are trying to ascertain all of the facts and information for everybody involved, and that is the reason why we're asking that you take this action," she told the board, some who appeared stunned to hear such a recommendation. But she said it was a matter of ensuring the public's trust.

The situation began at last month's monthly HART board meeting, when board member Wallace Bowers announced that he had received some complaints from employees about Armijo.  He was advised to meet with HART's legal counsel, and then worked with them to contact some local law firms.  After that happened, the firm of Ford & Harrison was hired to begin an investigation.

But during the course of that investigation, attorney Siler-Nixon said that there have been employees who have been "reticent" to speak to her firm "for fear of retaliation."

So what are the allegations?  The Florida Sentinel-Bulletin has done some reporting on this (no link available).  Their story says that Armijo has been accused of demoting or forcing out any employee who openly disagrees with his policies and procedures.

The story also reported about questions on hiring practices.  For example, a recent internal job was posted for a HART Part Time Communications Specialist who could work from home. This part time gig would pay somewhere between $50,689 and $63,356.  Considering the emphasis on spending taxpayers' money wisely, such a salary for a part-time position would certainly appear to be something that Commissioners Murman and Sharpe might be interested in learning more about.

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