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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014
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HART successor may take time to find

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Published:   |   Updated: March 3, 2014 at 07:37 PM

TAMPA ‑— It may take a year for HART’s board to recruit a permanent successor to chief executive Philip Hale, who will retire by early May, but it’s more certain it will cost a lot more for a new transit leader than the $150,000 annual salary Hale is making.

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board members agreed Monday they will consider how to recruit a successor and who might be interim director at the April board meeting.

Hale said last month he would retire and return to Texas to work in a family business, leaving behind record ridership, lower costs, a new labor agreement and an impending political battleground HART’s future.

“Someone asked if I would stay if I were paid $200,000,” said Hale. “I said I wouldn’t stay for $500,000.”

Hale agreed in April 2011 to move up as HART’s chief operating officer to lead the transit agency when the board fired David Armijo without cause. Hale volunteered to remain at his $150,000 COO pay during a difficult budget period for HART. Armijo was making $185,318.

But the next director would likely seek at least $185,000, based on salaries at comparable agencies, board members indicated.

While some board members have pointed out more revenue is a key to better bus service, Hale has never publicly indicated frustrations with leading the transit agency, despite its ever present tenuous revenue situation and a board distracted for months over prospects of the Legislature forcing a merger with the Pinellas transit agency.

In addition, the Hillsborough County Commission a year ago created a policy group that is considering plans to remake the HART bus system into an expansive agency that can oversee construction of countywide transportation projects and spur economic development, ranging well beyond HART’s current focus on operating a transit system efficiently.

The uncertainty of a merger that appears unlikely, but whose decision in Tallahassee likely won’t be known until May, and the prospect for a changing role of a HART director and possibly make-up of the HART board are but two of three issues that could deter top-notch candidates from considering HART’s top job.

In addition, a Pinellas County referendum in November to enhance its transit revenue with an additional sales tax could influence funding decisions in Hillsborough.

Conventional wisdom holds that passage could become a competitive spur for Hillsborough to do the same, or a defeat could doom a potential tax initiative in Hillsborough, whose voters turned down a tax increase in 2010 to fund light-rail, more bus service and other mobility improvements.

“In light of the uncertainties, we need to move on the interim (selection), HART board member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said.

Hale, a well-known administrator in U.S. transit circles who supervised bus and rail operations in Dallas before Armijo recruited him to Tampa, said he’d been contacted by people who might be interested in HART, but said it would be difficult to bring in highly qualified candidates until the uncertainties are cleared up.

He said the three top executives on his staff were qualified to be interim directors, identifying them not by name but by position: Chief operating Officer (Katharine Eagan); Chief Financial Officer (Jeffrey C. Seward); and Chief Business Enterprise and Safety Officer (Michael A. Stephens).

Hale said his recommendation would be to pursue the operations background as interim director. Eagan worked for the Maryland Transit Authority and Dallas Area Rapid Transit before coming to HART in 2009 and becoming COO in 2011.

tjackovics@tampatrib.com

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