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Board member quits after St. Pete housing agency hires CEO who was on paid leave at his previous job

The Housing Authority of Birmingham District put Michael Lundy on paid leave in March. On Monday, he started as the new leader of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority.

ST. PETERSBURG — The St. Petersburg Housing Authority has a new chief executive officer despite concerns from some board members that they were kept in the dark about why their new top executive was put on administrative leave in his last job.

The local housing agency recently signed a three-year contract worth $170,800 a year to hire Michael Lundy, who until March was the CEO of the Housing Authority of Birmingham District. But fallout over his hiring has continued to divide the St. Petersburg agency’s governing board and prompted one member, C. Knox LaSister III, to resign.

The Alabama housing agency put Lundy, 69, on paid leave in March with its board members saying only that they wanted to move the agency in a “different direction,” a Birmingham Times report stated. St. Petersburg board members who interviewed Lundy earlier this year were told that he could not answer questions about his departure because he had signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Lundy had faced criticism in 2019 for being too slow to react to a spate of crime in the city’s public housing. According to recruitment firm Gans & Gans, those concerns were not the reason for him leaving.

LaSister was among two board members who voted in May against hiring Lundy when the board approved a provisional employment contract and authorized board chairwoman Stephanie Owens to negotiate a final agreement. In a lengthy resignation letter, LaSister said the board was failing to perform its duty of oversight.

“The most recent decision to hire Michael Lundy to be the new Chief Executive Office is flawed for so many reasons, I can longer in good conscience be a part of that sycophant servitude to the Chairperson,” LaSister wrote.

Related: St. Pete housing agency to hire CEO who is on paid leave from Alabama agency

An attorney with a long history in housing administration, LaSister also questioned why Lundy would be paid at the cap set for housing authority salaries by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He said the agency also failed to get feedback from agency employees and public housing residents during the recruitment process.

Owens disputed those claims. She said that Gans & Gans had met with agency employees and with community leaders to get their feedback on what kind of leader the agency should hire.

“I’m disappointed that Knox LaSister resigned,” she said. “He certainly had skills that were very useful to our work.”

Lundy was making $247,000 in Birmingham, which is a much larger agency with 4,737 public housing units. St. Petersburg, by contrast, has just under 400 homes.

Jerri Evans, the other board member who voted against hiring Lundy, said she needed more details about his departure and is concerned about the criticism of his handling of public safety issues in Birmingham.

In June 2019, a 4-year-old girl was struck and killed by a stray bullet on one of the agency’s properties. Four months later, a 3-year-old was snatched from a birthday party on a housing complex and later found dead.

“I believe he has more baggage than what the St. Petersburg Housing Authority has looked at,” Evans said. “His board was unhappy about his lack of diligence at getting proper security at his properties.”

Lundy will work remotely from Birmingham for the first few weeks, Owens said, although it is planned that he will travel to St. Petersburg during that time to meet with key staffers.

One of his first priorities will be to bring new momentum to the stalled redevelopment of the Jordan Park housing complex. The agency has yet to finalize a financing plan for its redevelopment.

LaSister’s resignation is the second to come from the five board members appointed in the wake of Mayor Rick Kriseman’s decision to revamp the board after a series of Tampa Bay Times stories showed lax oversight of the agency. Late last year, Roxanne Amoroso quit after the agency terminated an agreement allowing Tampa Housing Authority leader Jerome Ryans to also serve as interim leader of its St. Petersburg counterpart.

Related: Turmoil continues at St. Pete housing agency as new board member resigns

Lundy’s hiring comes almost a year after the Housing Authority’s board fired Tony Love after a spate of missteps that led to the agency facing a federal review.

Owens said the agency has worked to correct issues raised by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and no longer is under review.

“I’m excited about where we are today,” she said. “Our housing authority has made some substantial improvements since this time a year ago.”