Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Audit prompts Pinellas administrator to tighten reins

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala ordered a management review and promised tighter reins on employee gifts and private-sector donations Tuesday after a harsh audit of county housing agencies.

The Community Development Department and the Housing Finance Authority, which promote affordable housing and share the same staff, had firms handling its projects pay for an $8,000 25th anniversary party for the authority in 2007.

They also used finance authority credit cards to buy officials gifts, such as a $115 bracelet and a $144 crystal decanter.

The contributions raised the specter of "pay to play" politics, and the gifts avoided the standard review by the county, according the county's internal audit division.

LaSala said he will bar employees from asking county vendors to donate for events, though county policy now does not go that far. He also will require the Human Resources Department to review gift purchases.

"I would have said that doesn't look right — give it back. … Now if you can't get enough (money), that's life," said LaSala, who was not administrator at the time of the gift purchases.

In a report to the County Commission, LaSala promised to hire a private firm to assess the agencies' practices and their work with nonprofits and other firms — a key part of the criticism.

But LaSala also suggested auditors have to work better with the county, and said their harshest ethical findings were "without any shred of practical reality." He declined to elaborate later, though he and other officials have questioned the justifications of auditors, saying they have a grudge.

Inspector General Hector Collazo said only that he welcomed the chance of a better relationship with county officials.

The audit, spanning more than two years, found that The Community Development Department gave a St. Petersburg nonprofit, Contemporary Housing Alternatives of Florida, "excessive" breaks on loans.

The nonprofit received 87 percent of concessions the agency allowed, including at least $4.7 million in forgiven debt, auditors found.

Retired County Administrator Fred Marquis has been an agency board member for much of the past decade, and former Assistant County Administrator Jake Stowers joined in 2008. Both men have denied pushing for favors.

Contemporary Housing Alternatives is designated as the preferred developer of rental housing with the county, guaranteeing it at least 15 percent of funding.

Community development director Anthony Jones maintains the audit was off-base. He did acknowledge Tuesday the need to improve record keeping, but said the agencies meet federal and state standards. The forgiveness provisions are part of loans from the start, he said.

But auditors accused him of intentionally denying them records and forcing them to buy their own table and chairs to work on.

After a two-hour presentation, the commissioners asked few questions. Chairwoman Karen Seel said LaSala's management review was appropriate.

"So many of these (findings) are 180 degrees from what you're saying," Commissioner Ken Welch told Jones.

David DeCamp can be reached at or (727) 893-8779.

Audit prompts Pinellas administrator to tighten reins 08/17/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 17, 2010 10:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Irma slows curbside trash service in Pasco


    Hurricane Irma brought a hiccup to twice-weekly curbside trash service in Pasco County.

Pasco officials are asking for patience about the slow pace of residential trash service from private haulers. In some areas, trash hasn't been collected since Friday, Sept. 8, because of the volume of waste left after Hurricane Irma.
  2. Clemson reunion for Bucs' Adam Humphries, Vikings' Mackensie Alexander


    Bucs receiver Adam Humphries will have a familiar face lining up against him Sunday when he's in the slot and the Vikings have Mackensie Alexander guarding him as their nickel defensive back.

    Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries (10) makes a reception before being tackled by Chicago Bears defensive back Marcus Cooper (31) Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  3. Tampa ranks behind Miami and Orlando in Most Fun Cities in America list


    Is Tampa really among the "most fun cities in America?"

    Tampa's large number of festivals was among the factors that earned it a high ranking.
  4. Vinoy seeks to educate voters before November referendum


     The high profile match between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker has cast a long shadow over other candidates and issues on the St. Petersburg residents' Nov. 7 ballot.

    The Vinoy is seeking voter approval to build a one-story parking garage behind the resort
  5. Backstreet Boys' Nick Carter thanks his former dance instructor from Tampa in touching tribute (w/ video)


    TAMPA -- Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter appeared at a meeting of the Hillsborough County commission on Wednesday.

    Tell me why.

    During a Hillsborough County Commission meeting, Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys appeared via video to thanks local dance instructor Sandy Karl, who retired after 45 years in the business.