Make us your home page
Instagram

Tampa airport investigating potential bid award conflicts

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority's top attorney told board members Tuesday she would authorize an independent investigation into potential conflicts of interest in procurement procedures at Tampa International Airport.

General counsel Gigi Rechel has asked David Smith, the agency's outside counsel, to review documents and interview employees about how staff members evaluated construction proposals and determine if state law or agency policies were violated.

"It's in the Aviation Authority's best interest to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible," Rechel said Tuesday evening.

The action followed allegations last week that Louis Russo, the agency's senior director of planning and development, was in a position to influence board decisions to award contracts to design firm Gresham, Smith and Partners, headquartered in Nashville. His wife, Jacqueline Russo, works at the company's Tampa office.

Airport interim executive director John Wheat revealed the connection at a board meeting Thursday as members prepared to award a contract to design a $7.9 million renovation of TIA's main terminal.

A staff review committee had ranked Gresham Smith's proposal as the best among those submitted by several firms.

Russo didn't sit on that panel. But five of its six members work for him. Board members fumed that Wheat hadn't told them earlier that Russo's wife was employed by the company.

They threw out the rankings and put a hold on decisions to award new contracts until new executive director Joseph Lopano starts work Jan. 1.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said that Rechel told her months earlier about reports that Russo took part in ranking proposals by Gresham Smith.

She told Wheat, who then made an unwritten policy against agency employees sitting on a committee if a relative worked for one of the bidders.

Rechel says she's still unclear what Jacqueline Russo's job is with Gresham Smith. Her husband told authority officials she was "a lower-level designer," said Rechel.

But a May 3 press release by the company said Jacqueline Russo was a new owner with a stake in the firm. She also identified herself as a principal with the company on the online networking site LinkedIn. No one at Gresham Smith's headquarters returned calls Monday about her position.

Orlando Lopez-Isa, a vice president in the Tampa office, told the Tampa Bay Business Journal that Jacqueline Russo's partnership was never finalized. She serves as a Tampa-based vice president, he told the publication.

Iorio and board member Steven Burton supported the investigation.

"It would be good to understand where we've been, and to make sure that any and all policies, regulations and laws are being followed," Burton said.

Iorio was incredulous that employees at the agency could be in a position to influence a decision that financially benefits a relative's employer.

"To me it's just common sense," she said. "You don't allow it any more and put in procedures so it doesn't happen again."

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com of (727) 893-8128.

Tampa airport investigating potential bid award conflicts 11/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 11:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park

    Tourism

    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  2. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  3. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood

    Business

    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  4. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa

    Business

    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  5. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county

    Water

    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.