HART Extends Chief Executive Armijo's Paid Suspension

April 04--TAMPA -- Tampa's mass transit agency extended its chief executive's paid suspension for two more weeks so board members could further investigate complaints against him.

The extension also gives David Armijo, chief executive officer of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, a chance to frame responses to allegations that forced his suspension on March 21.

He will meet individually with board members during the coming two weeks.

Among the allegations are that he failed to secure board permission for trips, didn't follow agency policy for vendors and retaliated against workers by using reorganizations as a way to intimidate employees.

The allegations were raised in February by unidentified employees. Three filed written complaints and about a dozen in all made allegations.

Today, the HART board allowed Armijo to take his seat during the meeting because the initial suspension had expired, then later reinstated the suspension.

Details of the allegations are murky because they were made under the state's whistleblower laws that legally shroud an accuser's identity or specifics that would lead someone to identify an employee raising the complaints.

During the meeting, Armijo told board members he wasn't told enough about the allegations to properly respond to each. He said he wasn't even allowed access to his appointment calendar.

After the meeting, he denied any allegations and looked forward to a chance to review them in detail. Some, he said, may have resulted from decisions by subordinates he was not aware of.

Two of the more specific complaints concern trips to San Diego and Washington, D.C., for conferences he made without board approval. Those will be among the first he clears, he said.

None of the allegations would warrant further investigation by a law enforcement agency, said attorney Dawn Siler-Nixon of the Tampa law office of Ford & Harrison, hired by the board to investigate the complaints.

Though barred from giving specifics, Siler-Nixon told the board her firm's investigation found there was an "overall tense and fearful climate" at the agency because of Armijo's actions that included multiple staff reorganizations.

Armijo said there were far fewer restructurings than the 10 in less than four years board members mentioned. All except three were small staff adjustments involving a few workers, he said after the meeting.

The lack of a resolution today disappointed the union vice president.

"They should have made a decision today," said John Green, local vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union that represents 330 to 350 of HART's 767 workers. "I don't think they want to take action," he said.

Some employees are afraid to come to work, Green said. "The mood at the job is very hostile. If he comes back, the work environment will get worse."

Some of the county commission's representatives on the HART board saw a possible hostile work environment place as a major issue.

"Of greater concern to me is if anyone felt intimidated," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe. "A CEO should encourage employees to come forward with concerns."

County Commissioner Kevin Beckner said policy complaints could be handled easily. "Of deeper concern is the hostile environment," he said.

The lack of detail in the complaints bothered other board members. "I think we have half the equation," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman.

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