ST. PETERSBURG — The local chapter of the NAACP is warning it may challenge Mayor Rick Kriseman if he follows through on his plan to remove board members from the city's housing agency.
NAACP St. Petersburg president Maria Scruggs said it would be an abuse of power and accused Kriseman of wanting to remove board members because he did not agree with their support of agency CEO Tony Love.
"This is a dictatorship we're getting ready to start in St. Pete," Scruggs said. "We certainly will be seeking a legal opinion. But from the discussions that I've had with our executive committee, this is way overboard."
Scruggs made her comments at a Housing authority meeting Thursday. She said that her group received several calls from citizens concerned that Kriseman was now running the housing agency, whose board members are black.
"What was really disturbing was the quote that he would only appoint people who basically agreed with him," she said referring to Kriseman's statement that he would only select commissioners "who are equally troubled by Mr. Love's job performance."
Kriseman made his announcement on Feb. 22 in response to a Tampa Bay Times investigation that found the agency's board in 2017 approved a 7.1 percent pay raise for agency CEO Tony Love without reviewing his evaluation. The $10,000 hike that increased Love's yearly salary to $150,000 was awarded despite written reports from senior staffers that Love routinely shouted, belittled staff and was causing the agency to lose key experienced employees.
The evaluation was produced by the agency's personnel committee, which includes board chairman Harry Harvey and vice-chairman Delphinia Davis. It did not include any of the concerns raised by employees.
City officials have given the Housing Authority until close of business on March 6 to provide documents and other information that will inform the mayor's decision on the future of board members, said city spokesman Ben Kirby.
"Kriseman is intent on removing commissioners if it is true they neglected their jobs," Kirby said. "It's not enough to simply not like the decisions they make."
As mayor, Kriseman has authority to recommend board members to city council, which approves the appointments. But the agency is otherwise autonomous and board members, who serve on a voluntary basis, provide the only oversight.
Scruggs said the NAACP has not yet reviewed statutes to see what authority Kriseman has over existing board members. City officials previously said the mayor has the authority to remove board members in the middle of their term.
The board members facing removal are Davis, Harvey, Basha Jordan, Ann Sherman-White and Jo Ann Nesbitt .
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During a fractious board meeting Thursday, Jordan called on Love to sit down with Kriseman and work through their differences. The agency is expected to ask the city to sign off on a $25 million tax-exempt bond the housing authority wants to issue to rehab and redevelop Jordan Park.
"The elephant in the room is that the Mayor has a negative opinion of you as our CEO," Jordan said.
Love said he was willing to meet with Kriseman and that he was not aware of any "opposition" the city has toward moving ahead with the redevelopment project.
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_times.