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2 contracts with unregistered geologist canceled

Considering how much their own staff had embarrassed them, the five elected officials that head Tampa Bay's vast water system were restrained when the issue of the unlicensed geologist came up Monday.

All they did was kill two contracts with the unregistered geologist, send his case to Tallahassee for review by the state's licensing board, allow three other contracts to stand _ for now _ then heard a heartfelt apology from their own attorney for his role in the controversy.

It all stemmed from what amounts to the messy breakup of a two-partner consulting firm that labored in the lucrative and never-ending hunt for clean water.

Monday was the regularly scheduled meeting of the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority, but the elected officials that form its board of directors had chafed for nearly a month under the circumstances surrounding the case of Tampa geologist Phillip Davis.

Davis, a partner in the firm of Schreuder & Davis, had enjoyed considerable success at landing consulting contracts with the water authority. His firm's specialty was using computers to assess and explain the underground water resources in the Tampa Bay area, and the firm at one time had amassed more than $800,000 worth of consulting contracts with the water authority.

Just one problem: On some key pages of those contracts, Davis had stated that he was licensed and registered in Florida as a professional geologist, a so-called "PG."

But the state Department of Professional Regulation has no listing of Davis in its files, just a years-long legal case file of the department's repeated denials of his requests for the designation.

"He's either on an ego trip or he's stupid, I don't know which," said St. Petersburg City Council Member Paul Yingst, a Water Authority board member.

Doubly confounding is the fact that Davis didn't need the PG designation to work for West Coast. The fact that his former partner and several employees have earned the designation is sufficient.

By most accounts, Davis does good work. He's worked for several governments that comprise West Coast, the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa and the counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco. The authority serves as a wholesaler of ground water, the primary source of drinking water in the Tampa Bay region.

Water authority staff members and Tampa lawyer Edward de la Parte, the board's general counsel, all have said they knew Davis lacked the "PG" designation.

But nobody ever told the board.

Davis' attorney in his effort to win the state's PG designation was De la Parte.

Monday, de la Parte's voice grew husky as he told the board just how sorry he was: "It's the credibility of this agency and myself that's going to be diminished."

When he decided to represent Davis before the state regulators even as Davis worked for the authority, "the process was set into motion that has come to embarrass the authority, and that I regret.

"Neither my firm nor I should represent a vendor that does business with the authority." Moments later, he added: "It does matter that the perception was that we represented two masters."

But water officials from the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County weren't worried about the legalities. Davis and his computers do very good work, they said, and they wanted the Water Authority to keep Davis. They pointed out that two of the disputed contracts with Davis were financed by Tampa and Hillsborough.

When the board members heard that, they voted unanimously to retain those two contracts with Davis' firm.

But the board also had two contracts with Davis for general consulting services as the need arises. At the moment, his services were not being used, so the board killed those agreements.

A fifth contract still has about 45 days to run before the project wraps up. To kill that contract, find a new consulting firm, get it familiar with the project and pay Davis for his effort to date would cost the authority more time and money than the delay was worth, staff said.

Members agreed, but they also voted to send Davis' case to the Department of Professional Regulation to see if that agency recommends any sanctions against Davis for falsely claiming a state registration.