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Housing official defends himself at hearing

Edward White Jr., the suspended executive director of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, appeared before federal housing officials in Atlanta for six hours Wednesday to fight what he says are wrongful accusations of mismanagement.

White's lawyer, James D. Eckert of St. Petersburg, said the proceedings went well and White had documentation to back up "98 percent" of the points that he made to HUD officials.

"Mr. White made a full, complete and direct response to all questions and all allegations," Eckert said.

Eckert said previously that he had worked out a way for White to have access to the authority's public records, as any person would, even though he was suspended from his job at the authority as of Jan. 30.

As for White, Eckert said he was in "good spirits."

"But naturally, he's concerned," Eckert said.

The proceedings in Atlanta were closed to the public, said Linda Lipthrott, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and therefore she couldn't say what had happened. But she added that a public announcement about HUD's decision on whether to affirm the charges, modify them or drop them is coming soon.

"We don't want to string this thing along," Lipthrott said.

Two weeks ago, HUD issued a "limited denial of participation" against White, which barred him from participating in federally financed housing programs. It was a decision that Housing Authority officials have said virtually forced them to suspend White, because federal programs and financing are the lifeblood of the authority's business.

HUD officials claimed White had overstepped his authority in several areas. The next day White's bosses, the board of the Housing Authority, suspended him with pay pending the outcome of the housing investigation.

A subsequent examination of Housing Authority finances by HUD officials from Jacksonville concluded that there was "financial mismanagement." Among the problems cited were inadequate reserve funds and loose oversight procedures.

A Housing Authority meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, during which authority members are scheduled to discuss establishing temporary financial controls.

Helen Harris, authority spokeswoman, said the item was a response to HUD's findings. For example, the authority board likely will establish controls on the amount the executive director can spend without getting board approval, Harris said.

Also, Zinober and Burr, a Tampa law firm representing the Housing Authority, is scheduled to give authority board members an update on the HUD matter in Atlanta, and the status of a lawsuit White had filed against the authority demanding reinstatement to his position.

Earlier this week, a judge refused to compel the authority to put White back on the job.