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St. Petersburg Housing Authority's Darrell Irions ordered to turn over personal hard drives

A judge has ordered the head of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority to turn over his home computer hard drives to a forensic auditor as part of a long public records battle.

The Pinellas County Housing Authority sued the city housing authority and its chief executive officer, Darrell Irions, to get records from the five years that Irions also served as the head of that agency.

Irions resigned from the county authority in 2009 after its board members accused him of mishandling a project for a joint headquarters, along with other complaints.

A forensic audit company hired by the county authority reported last year that Irions had forwarded public e-mail to a private Yahoo address, then deleted the e-mail from a government server. That could be a violation of Florida's open records law.

In a Feb. 3 order, Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird gave Irions 20 days to turn over hard drives to the county's forensic auditor, plus the user name and password to his Yahoo account, to allow a search for missing records.

Irions has denied deleting records, though records provided under other public record requests show he used the Yahoo account for public work until at least early 2010. His attorney, Richard Harrison, said Irions doesn't use the Yahoo account for government business anymore, and he met demands for public records.

Harrison said he likely will oppose turning the hard drive and e-mail information over, setting up a March 3 court hearing. He called the accusations a "fishing expedition" after complaints to the Florida Attorney General and are State Attorney's Office went nowhere.

"This isn't a vendetta," said county housing authority Chairman Joe Triolo. "Hopefully, this will put this to a close and we can return to our focus on providing housing."

Last month, Irions and the city authority faced criticism after Times' stories showed the agency spent $1 million on land for a new headquarters without getting an independent appraisal. The price was double the value listed by the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office, but less than the amount sought by the seller, Mercantile Bank.

The building — which included plans for a wellness center and a separate entrance for Irions' office — is now on hold after all 18 bids came in over the $1.2 million construction budget.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said Tuesday he plans to speak at the city authority's Feb. 24 board meeting. While he said he warned Irions against building an opulent office, Foster refrained from criticizing the agency's actions. He said he will talk to the board about a wide range of topics, but he declined to go into specifics.

"I don't know how far the train has gone but we may go into that (headquarters)," said Foster, who appoints the authority's board. "I might have some questions that they can answer."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

St. Petersburg Housing Authority's Darrell Irions ordered to turn over personal hard drives 02/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 4:16pm]
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