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Wife of TIA planning director isn't co-owner of firm bidding for work, company says

What role does Jacqueline Russo perform for Gresham, Smith and Partners, the company at the center of a procurement controversy at Tampa International Airport?

After hearing last week that Louis Russo, her husband and a senior TIA official, was in a position to influence their selection of Gresham Smith for contracts, airport board members suspended action on all pending contracts. An outside counsel is poised to investigate any possible conflict of interest.

Letters from Gresham Smith executives released Wednesday shed some light on Jacqueline Russo's position with the company. But not enough to satisfy the airport's top attorney.

"I'm still not comfortable determining what her role is at Gresham Smith," said Gigi Rechel, general counsel at the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. "I'm going to leave that for the investigator to determine."

Louis Russo, the airport's senior director of planning and development, told authority lawyers his wife was a designer in the company's Tampa office. The St. Petersburg Times reported Tuesday that the company named her as a new owner in the company in a May 3 news release. She identified herself as a principal of the firm on Linked­In, an online networking site.

Gresham Smith CEO James W. Bearden wrote Rechel on Tuesday to explain her employment status. Russo is a senior associate and principal in the company's corporate and urban design division, he wrote, and has no involvement in the firm's airport projects at TIA or elsewhere.

She was offered an ownership stake earlier this year, Bearden wrote. But her ownership contract was never executed and Russo remains a senior associate.

The distinction between her being an owner and an employee could make a big legal difference.

Under the state's ethics law, public employees can't do business for their agencies with a company in which a spouse is an officer, partner or proprietor or owns an interest of 5 percent or more, according to an overview of the law written by John G. Hubbard, Dunedin city attorney.

Last week, Gresham Smith was the top-ranked firm for a contract to design a $7.9 million renovation of the TIA's main terminal. Board members threw out the ranking after learning Jacqueline Russo worked for the company and that five of six members of the committee that reviewed the proposals worked for Louis Russo.

Wife of TIA planning director isn't co-owner of firm bidding for work, company says 11/10/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 10:35pm]
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