Editorial: St. Petersburg Housing Authority in the shadows, not the sunshine

The agency had originally charged one of its own board members for access to its records.
CEO Tony Love defended charging Terri Lipsey Scott for the records because it would take staff time. [Times photo by Dirk Shadd]
CEO Tony Love defended charging Terri Lipsey Scott for the records because it would take staff time. [Times photo by Dirk Shadd]
Published February 8
Updated February 8

Memo to staff at the St. Petersburg Housing Authority: You work for a public agency, and you don’t get to operate without oversight.

Last week, a commissioner on the board that oversees the Housing Authority requested agency records, including annual evaluations, committee meeting records and travel invoices, in the wake of concerning reports about a pay raise and incentive package that were offered to CEO Tony Love and other staff members.

Terri Lipsey Scott, who offered to copy the records herself, was handed a bill for hundreds of dollars and told she couldn’t get the records until she paid up. That’s a pinched interpretation of Florida’s public records law, which permits agencies to charge a reasonable fee to compile and copy records for members of the public. But as a board member, Scott has a fiduciary duty to scrutinize the housing authority’s operations and spending. She can ask for any receipt, email, invoice or post-it note she wants, and the staff should hasten to give it to her.

St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes made sure Scott got the records by paying the $900 bill himself. Within days, Love buckled and reimbursed Gerdes. But he still doesn’t get it. In his letter to Gerdes, Love wrote that Scott was seeking information that had “nothing to do with her duties.”

Love can only wish that were the case. In fact, Scott was seeking more information about a dubious proposal that came up in an October meeting to give Love and nine other top executives a percentage of any development fees from the construction of new low-income housing. The idea was scrapped, thankfully. But the board did approve giving Love, who makes $157,000 a year, a 5 percent pay raise and an increase to his car allowance from $600 to $700 per month.

Scott, who missed the October meeting, wanted to know more. What she got was a hostile response to a board member seeking to exercise her oversight role.

It’s worth noting that two other housing authorities in Tampa Bay say they never have and never would charge a board member for their own records. If the St. Petersburg Housing Authority thinks it can obstruct its own board members from doing their jobs, you have to wonder who’s really in charge.