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Darrell Irions out as Pinellas County housing authority director

Darrell Irions directed three housing authorities, but he had been under fire by the county board.

Darrell Irions directed three housing authorities, but he had been under fire by the county board.

Pinellas County Housing Authority chief Darrell Irions has quit after months of infighting with the county authority board.

His departure, revealed Tuesday, essentially ends a partnership between the county and the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, which Irions also directs.

Irions' move, backed the St. Petersburg agency, came two weeks after some members of the county board tried to oust him. The effort failed by a 3-2 vote.

Irions on Tuesday said that the move to fire him prompted him to persuade the St. Petersburg authority to let him leave the county post. A top aide, chief operating officer Debbie Johnson, is expected to become acting director at a county authority board meeting today.

But joint work by the agencies and a proposed combined headquarters — hallmarks of Irions — appear scuttled.

"It troubles me why Mr. Irions would represent to me the economies of scale were so beneficial to the housing authority, and then he would abandon them," said Joe Triolo, who voted with Tom Minkoff to remove Irions.

Irions receives $220,500 a year directing the county, St. Petersburg and the Dunedin housing authorities. Disputes about his decisions arose as he consolidated authority over them.

"I obviously have serious concerns about one or more of my commissioners on the Pinellas County Housing Authority," Irions said Tuesday. "I just have never been in a situation where I felt that uncomfortable."

Though he had talked to the city board members about leaving for several months, he called the effort to oust him a "Barnum & Bailey circus act."

Not only did the St. Petersburg board agree with him, it voted Thursday to terminate agreements with the county authority, including the one that allows him to work there.

Since 2004, they had combined maintenance, voucher programs and management — services that must be rearranged to keep housing complexes functioning normally.

In a Monday letter to county officials, St. Petersburg Housing Authority lawyer Richard Salem said a team will work for a "smooth and timely transition" over 180 days. Irions promised to help Johnson, though he'll soon work out of a different office.

"It appeared to us that they did not want a partnership," said Arnett Smith, St. Petersburg's board chairman. "There is no way we can carry out the agreement if they do not have faith in our people who are basically serving both agencies."

But Triolo and Minkoff said the fight over proposed headquarters showed the trouble of having Irions serve multiple agencies. Triolo said the authority needs an independent leader.

Irions chose a developer without a public bid, and the proposed deal would have made it tougher for the city and county agencies to separate later, which spurred discord.

Housing authority officials said they were unsure how Irions salary will change, though the county board will stop paying $110,000 a year to the St. Petersburg agency.

Times staff writer Cristina Silva contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Darrell Irions out as Pinellas County housing authority director 04/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 8:03am]
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