Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg mayor shows strong interest in audit of house purchase tied to Go Davis

ST. PETERSBURG — When first told in August about the city's purchase of a Childs Park home owned by the aunt of a top city administrator, Mayor Bill Foster said he didn't think anything was amiss.

"I don't smell a scandal here," Foster said. "There are so many eyeballs on these transactions that I don't worry about issues where favoritism might be involved. It's not an issue here."

But now, with about two weeks before the release of an audit into the purchase, Foster said briefings with investigators have raised questions that could lead to disciplinary action.

Foster won't say what those questions are or who might be punished, but his latest comments contradict his initial ambivalence over a deal that involves the aunt of Goliath Davis, the city's senior administrator of community enrichment.

Foster said the audit — which was the first ordered by a mayor in at least nine years — had nothing to do with his rivalry through the years with Davis.

"It has do with the fact that the city may have overpaid for a piece of property and council may not have had the information it needed when they approved the sale," Foster said. "When I was on council, having that information was standard operating procedure."

Davis, who said auditors have questioned him, didn't want to speculate about Foster's interest in the audit.

"I don't think there will be disciplinary action against me because I haven't done anything wrong," Davis said. "If there's an audit that's complete, I haven't read it, I have no idea."

The audit analyzes the city's purchase of a home owned by Beverly Gray, Davis' aunt. The city paid Gray $80,000 for the green concrete block house that the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office gave a market value of $24,000.

Davis helped select the house for purchase so the city could make room for a waterfront park in Childs Park. He said he didn't know at the time it belonged to his aunt. When he found out, he said he removed himself from the acquisition process.

Still, Gray got a sales price that suggested favoritism. An e-mail from an employee negotiating the acquisition showed the city purposely paid an inflated price to Gray by using an outdated appraisal from 2007.

The backup information the City Council had when it approved the deal in December didn't indicate that Gray was Davis' aunt or that the city was justifying the price with a 2-year-old appraisal.

Rick Baker was mayor then. Foster didn't take office until January.

When the St. Petersburg Times reported the deal in August, Foster said, "I really can't second-guess what council and the previous administration did."

More than a week later, however, Foster ordered the audit. He still downplayed it, stating that its purpose was merely to assure "all the t's were crossed and the i's dotted."

The disclosure of this home purchase came weeks after Foster minimized another incident involving Davis.

In December, Davis was pulled over while weaving in his city car in Gulfport. He wasn't given a citation, but a police video was released months later that showed Davis taking a roadside sobriety test.

When the video was released in April, Foster said he stood behind Davis. But a month later, he revoked Davis' take-home car, which he had since 1996. Foster called it a cost-cutting move, yet at the same time he extended take-home car privileges for the Police Department.

City Auditor Bradley Scott said Foster has been briefed twice on the auditing.

To expedite the investigation, Foster assigned two auditors, rather than the typical one.

"The mayor wanted it out as quick as we could get it," said Scott.

According to City Administrator Tish Elston, it's been the only audit ordered by Foster. Baker never ordered one in his two terms as mayor, she said.

"Any time there was any questioning with how things were done, Baker left that to me," Elston said. "If there were issues with the organization, he wanted me to handle it."

This time, that wasn't the case with Foster, who Elston said "beat me to the punch" in ordering the audit.

Elston said she's waiting to see the final report before she comments.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or [email protected]

St. Petersburg mayor shows strong interest in audit of house purchase tied to Go Davis 10/27/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 7:40am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. City Council approves $5 million for Clearwater Marine Aquarium expansion


    CLEARWATER — The City Council on Thursday approved contributing $5 million to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for its massive expansion project.

    Clearwater has agreed to contributed $5 million to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium 
's $66 million expansion project.. [ Clearwater Marine Aquarium] 

  2. Live blog: Some scuffles, shot fired, but otherwise calm after Richard Spencer speech at UF


    GAINESVILLE — A small army of law enforcement officers, many of them from cities and counties around the state, have converged on the University of Florida in preparation for today's speaking appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer.

    A Richard Spencer supporter is escorted by police along Hull Road outside of the Phillips Center after the white nationalist's speech on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, Fla. on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017.
  3. This unidentified man was punched outside of Richard Spencer's speech in Gainesville.
  4. Pentagon faces demands for details on deadly attack in Niger


    WASHINGTON — The Trump administration had no answers Thursday to key questions two weeks after an ambush in the African nation of Niger killed four U.S. soldiers, prompting demands in Congress for details, complaints of Pentagon stonewalling and a comparison to the 2012 Benghazi attack. The White House defended …

    In this image provided by the U.S. Army, a carry team of soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), carry the transfer case during a casualty return for Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, of Lyons, Ga., at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Oct. 5, 2017. U.S. and Niger forces were leaving a meeting with tribal leaders when they were ambushed on Oct. 4 and Wright and three other soldiers were killed. There were about a dozen U.S. troops and a company of Niger forces, for a total of about 40 service members in the joint mission. [Pfc. Lane Hiser | U.S. Army via AP]
  5. Trigaux: Florida, Tampa Bay lagging in growth of their startups

    Economic Development

    The annual assessment of how entrepreneurs are doing across the country is out from the Kauffman Foundation — among the best watchers of the nation's startup scene. How do Florida and Tampa Bay fare?

    Lured by financial incentives, startup GeniusCentral relocated from Manatee County in 2015 to St. Petersburg, promising to creatye 40 new jobs. It took downtown space in an appropriately creative workpace for entrepreneurs. It did not last there, later moving back to less expensive space in Manatee. A new Kauffman Index report on entrepreneurship found that Florida is a good place to launch startups but a tougher place to grow them.