ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman is replacing two St. Petersburg Housing Authority board members in a move city officials say is intended to boost oversight of the troubled agency.
Board members Basha P. Jordan Jr., and Jo Ann Nesbitt will not be reappointed to second terms. In their place, Kriseman has named Stephanie Owens, who worked on federal housing and healthcare policy in the White House during the administrations of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and Jerri Evans, a legal assistant.
The move comes as the Housing Authority has been hit by a spate of controversies over the renovation of the Jordan Park public housing complex and the leadership of CEO Tony Love.
Some community leaders, including Pinellas County School Board chair Rene Flowers, say Love forced residents out of the complex before the agency had money lined up for its redevelopment. Love also has faced criticism for planning to charge a board member $900 to review agency records and a plan for him and top staff to get a slice of any development fees from the construction of new public housing.
And earlier this month, a Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed that Love in 2016 lived rent-free for nine months in an apartment designated for low-income families, a violation of federal guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The agency also paid his electric bill and spent almost $3,000 on furniture.
“Mayor Kriseman began to remake the commission when he took office, but the time has clearly come to infuse it with new energy and more oversight," said city spokesman Ben Kirby. “Recommending outstanding citizens and experienced professionals like Jerri Evans and Stephanie Owens to City Council is the first step to ensuring that our residents are being well-served and that the Housing Authority is being well-run."
Jordan and Nesbitt were among five board members that Kriseman said in February he would consider removing in response to a Times report that the board approved a 7 percent pay raise for Love in 2017 without reviewing his evaluation. That $10,000 increase was awarded despite written reports from senior staffers that Love routinely shouted, belittled staff and was causing the agency to lose key experienced employees.
Kriseman's administration is continuing to look into whether it has grounds to remove three other board members who are still serving out four-year terms. Any such move may be challenged by the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP whose president, Maria Scruggs, said it would be an abuse of power by Kriseman.
"When you have board members exercising their fiduciary duties for free and for the mayor to not reappoint them is bad, but it’s a constant pattern of how his administration has handled issues in the African American community," Scruggs said.
Jordan was appointed to the Housing Authority in September 2016. He is the grandson of Elder Jordan, after whom Jordan Park is named.
He said it has long been the politics of the city to try and control the housing agency and said Love has moved the organization to "new heights." No one from the city contacted him to let him know of Kriseman's decision, which he learned from a Housing Authority official.
"It would have been a very appreciative gesture to have contacted me personally for the hours of service I have given rather than having someone unaffiliated with the city to give me the message.," Jordan said.
Nesbitt was the board member who asked at the November 2017 meeting how the panel could vote on an evaluation they hadn't seen.
On Tuesday, she said she misunderstood what his evaluation looked like and had seen it. It did not include any of the comments collected in half-dozen staff evaluations of Love, including two that stated that he yelled at staff, was “bullish” and on one occasion ordered three employees to spend more than three hours making ‘‘goody bags” for his upcoming fraternity golf event.
"Those questionnaires are between the CEO and his staff; there was no reason for us to see those evaluations," Nesbitt said. "I feel I have done the very best I could do in serving these past three and a half years."
A city council committee is scheduled to vote on Kriseman's two new recommendations for the board on Thursday. His picks must then be approved by a full vote of council.
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at email@example.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_times.