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St. Petersburg mayor says he plans to remove five Housing Authority commissioners after report

Board members in 2017 approved a $10,000 pay hike for CEO Tony Love without reviewing his evaluation.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says he plans to remove five St. Petersburg  Housing Authority board members after a Times investigation found they approved a 7 percent pay raise for CEO Tony Love without seeing his evaluation.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says he plans to remove five St. Petersburg Housing Authority board members after a Times investigation found they approved a 7 percent pay raise for CEO Tony Love without seeing his evaluation.
Published Feb. 22, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman said Friday he plans to remove five commissioners from the St. Petersburg Housing Authority governing board for failing to properly oversee the agency.

His announcement comes just hours after a Tampa Bay Times investigation found that board members 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.

"I have lost confidence in these board members, and of even greater significance, I have zero confidence in Mr. Love's ability to effectively lead this organization," Kriseman said in a statement. "As such, I will only recommend for appointment new commissioners who are equally troubled by Mr. Love's job performance."

The board members facing removal are chairwoman Delphinia Davis, Harry Harvey, Basha Jordan, Ann Sherman-White and Jo Ann Nesbitt.

In an audio recording of the November 2017 meeting when the pay hike was approved Nesbitt can be heard asking how they could vote on a review they hadn't seen.

She and other board members were told that the evaluation could be requested from human resources. Then all of them, including Nesbitt, voted for the pay hike, documents show.The evaluation was produced by the agency's personnel committee, which includes Davis and Harvey.

The seven commissioners who make up the Housing Authority's governing board serve on a voluntary basis and are selected by the St. Petersburg mayor and approved by the City Council. But the agency is otherwise autonomous and board members, who serve on a voluntary basis, provide the only oversight.

City officials said the mayor has the authority to remove board members in the middle of their term. Kriseman said his staff and the city attorney are in the process of confirming the Times' reporting and reviewing Florida law before he finalizes his decision next week.

"Some of St. Pete's most vulnerable residents are served by the housing authority and deserve a CEO and commission that puts their well-being first," Kriseman said. "Such a goal is best accomplished through transparency, accountability, and a passion for public service."

Love, 63, took over running the agency in January 2016.

A half-dozen senior employees, including the chief operating officer and head of asset management, were asked in June 2017 to complete an anonymous questionnaire as part of his first evaluation, records show. Many of their answers raised serious questions about his leadership.

Love often yelled at staff, was "bullish" and on one occasion ordered three employees to spend more than three hours making ''goody bags" for his upcoming fraternity golf event, according to one questionnaire obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

"Subordinate staff has broken down in tears, feel they work in an environment of undue intimidation and their future with the agency is dismal," another stated.

When asked for copies of all the questionnaires staffers completed about Love, the agency said they couldn't be found.

Under state law, personnel records must be retained for up to 50 years after the end of employment.

In an interview Thursday, Love told the Times he was unaware that his human resources director had asked staffers to provide feedback about his performance. He said he could not recall during his evaluation meeting with the personnel committee if the employee questionnaires were discussed.

When asked about employees' comments about his management, he said he has a loud voice that may have been mistaken for shouting.

Housing Authority leadership faced criticism earlier this month when officials told board member Terri Lipsey Scott she would have to pay up to $900 for copies of records she wanted to review. The agency reversed that decision after City Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes offered to pay the cost.

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_times.

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