Hillsborough transit chief resigns

Greg Cox was suspended with pay last month amid accusations of abusive treatment of employees.

By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 6, 2007

TAMPA -- Facing accusations of lax financial oversight and abusive treatment of employees, the head of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission abruptly resigned Wednesday.

Greg Cox, director of the commission, will receive a severance package equal to three months of his pay, $25,298 -- terms the agency's board of directors accepted Wednesday. In return, Cox agreed to make no legal claims against the agency in the future.

The board also agreed to forgive about $12,000 in unauthorized allowance pay that Cox had received in error. His resignation is effective immediately.

Board members voted 6-1 to accept the separation agreement, with Ken Hagan voting no. He wanted to give Cox six months of severance pay.

Cox did not attend Wednesday's meeting and referred questions to his attorney, Ryan Barack, with the Kwall, Showers, Coleman & Barack firm in Clearwater.

"He wanted to pursue other employment opportunities with a goal of improving the quality of life for him and his family," said Barack in a comment that closely reflects Cox's one-sentence resignation letter.

Cox was suspended with pay last month after transportation board member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White raised several concerns.

They generally involved accusations of abusive treatment he fielded from many of the agency's nine employees.

White also raised concerns with what he considered to be an excessive reserve account overseen by Cox.

His resignation effectively ends an external investigation of the workplace complaints.

However, a review of the reserve account overseen by Cox buttressed White's concerns with both the amount amassed and rules for how the money is doled out.

The review by the county's internal performance auditor's office found that the agency's reserve was $715,228 as of September 2006, an amount equal to 90 percent of the agency's annual expenses. The review found that amount to be excessive.

It also found that the county subsidized the agency by a total of $380,559 from the 1999 fiscal year to 2003, even though the licensing fees it charged more than covered its expenses.

Based on that, and Cox having received excess pay in the past, White wanted to forgo giving him any severance pay. But he accepted the terms in a compromise.

"Either way, the bottom line is the same, and we'll be looking for a new director," White said.

The commission regulates cars for hire, such as taxis, vans, limousines, some ambulances and wreckers.

Cox has run the agency since 1999, a period of considerable conflict among cabdrivers and others who provide paid transport, who routinely allege another side gets an unfair edge.

He spent 20 years as an Army transportation officer, operating military seaports, highway transportation organizations and helicopter maintenance.

Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair, who sits on the board and knows Cox through youth sports coaching, had also sought to give him six months' severance.

"Personally I've known Greg for a long time, and that's why I stood up for him," Blair said.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.