Director off job during inquiry

The county's transportation chief is suspended for 30 days with pay.

By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 9, 2007

TAMPA - The board that oversees the agency that regulates cabs, limousines and other cars for hire suspended its executive director Wednesday while attorneys investigate accusations of wrongdoing.

The board of directors for the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission will pay Greg Cox during his 30-day suspension, which is effective immediately. His chief enforcement inspector will assume interim duties.

Cox is facing accusations of running a hostile workplace and of effectively blacklisting a van driver who had prior tussles with the commission. The board also wants to know more about a roughly $800,000 contingency fund Cox oversees.

The board took up each issue one by one, voting 6-0 in each case to proceed with the investigation and Cox's suspension. PTC board member and Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair was absent.

"I welcome the investigation," Cox said afterward. "I'm not concerned about the outcome of it, personally."

PTC board chairman Kevin White, a county commissioner, brought the issues up during a meeting Wednesday. He said he wants to get questions answered and is reserving judgment.

"The worst thing I would want to happen is for this board to take" no action, given the nature of the allegations, White said. "I have no reason to believe Mr. Cox is guilty or innocent at this time."

The board is directing the County Attorney's Office to do an initial review of the allegations, then make referrals to other investigative agencies if it deems such action appropriate. The State Attorney's Office and the Florida Commission on Ethics were mentioned as examples.

White said that does not preclude the attorney's office from sending the hostile workplace complaints to a different entity.

The seven-member PTC board consists of representatives from the commissions and councils of Hillsborough County and its three cities. The agency issues licenses for drivers of cars for hire, conducts criminal background checks on them, and sets standards for their conduct and the condition of their vehicles. It also enforces the rules.

Cox and the PTC regularly come under criticism for the rules they set and how they enforce them.

White said he began fielding complaints from employees of the agency and, while interviewing many of them, heard repeatedly that Cox is an abusive boss. He also heard recently from Ndidi Osuji, a former van driver who says he was effectively blacklisted from getting hired by local companies after he successfully challenged a citation for improperly soliciting business at the Port of Tampa.

Osuji said Cox called prospective employers who considered hiring him and threatened them with extra PTC scrutiny if they did.

"They're out to get me," Osuji said. "They put pressure on the companies I was doing business with."

White said he wants to know more about the $800,000 contingency fund because he is hearing reports that the agency is not properly staffed or equipped.

Other PTC board members welcomed White's request while saying they are not making assumptions about the outcome.

"I know you've done a very good job of building the image of this agency," Tampa City Council member Tom Scott told Cox, referencing a corruption scandal in the 1990s that cast a pall over the PTC. "We have the responsibility as elected officials to do our due diligence."