ST. PETERSBURG — Eight months before they were removed for lax oversight, the two most senior members of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority governing board decided CEO Tony Love should get more money.
After completing his evaluation, the agency's personnel committee — including board member Harry Harvey and then-chairwoman Delphia Davis — recommended Love receive a 5 percent pay raise and that his monthly car allowance be increased from $600 to $700, both backdated to the beginning of 2018. They also recommended a new perk: A payment of almost $800 per month into Love’s retirement account.
Those benefits were drafted into a new contract for the CEO, whose original three-year employment agreement was about to expire. It gave Love another three years as boss, contradicting a provision calling for only a one-year renewal. It raised his taxable salary to about $164,000 a year.
Davis, as board chairwoman, added her signature to the legal document on Jan. 18, records show, even though the housing agency's full board never approved it.
Her actions mark the second time the agency has apparently skirted rules while giving Love a pay raise. In 2017, Harvey and Davis didn’t disclose to other board members voting on a 7 percent pay increase that senior staff had complained about Love shouting at and bullying them, to the point where a consultant had to be brought in to meet with the CEO .
This latest controversy at the troubled agency has current board members questioning whether the new contract is even valid.
“I can’t believe that a contract was negotiated without the benefit of the board having reviewed it or approved it,” said board member Terri Lipsey Scott, who raised the issue after she reviewed invoices showing the agency paid for extensive legal work on a new contract she never saw until she made a public records request.
Ricardo Gilmore, the attorney for the Tampa Housing Authority, said Love's new contract should not have been signed unless it was approved by the full board.
"The full board has to vote on the record in order for the contract to be considered valid," he said.
Even if it is void, Love would likely still be under contract through a provision that extends his employment for one year if the agency fails to approve a new contract by Jan. 1. That means the agency would still owe him severance if its new board decides to fire him in the wake of recent missteps.
Some local leaders, including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, have criticized Love for his handling of the relocation of residents from Jordan Park and his decision to live for nine months in a federally subsidized apartment designated for low-income families.
His current contract requires he be paid a severance equivalent to three months salary and any unused vacation pay if he is fired without cause. If the board decides it has grounds to fire him, it would only have to pay him four weeks salary.
Housing Authority spokeswoman Michelle Ligon declined to address questions about why Davis signed a contract that had not been voted on by the board and whether Love received the pay raise and other new benefits. Davis did not respond to several text message requesting comment. When asked about signing the contract after a recent board meeting, she declined to talk to a Tampa Bay Times reporter.
Records show that four of the seven-member board were briefed about the details of Love's new contract on Oct. 3, the same day as the personnel committee meeting. Minutes reflect the board agreed to send the recommendations for the pay raise and other perks for a vote at a future meeting. But minutes of subsequent meetings show there was no vote.
Jay Walker, an attorney with Trenam Law, which acts as legal counsel for the Housing Authority, said the board's initial vote effectively served as approval to add the pay raise and car allowance into a new contract. But he acknowledged the board never voted on the contract.
"We believe that an issue remains for future board approval as to the length of the renewal and have recommended the same to the (St. Petersburg Housing Authority) for consideration."
"It does appear it was approved outside of the process of the bylaws," said Stephanie Owens, who was appointed to the board in March. "I am concerned that our counsel is not more concerned whether or not this was a legitimate activity on the part of the board."
In a document responding to questions about the contract, Walker stated that Davis, the former board chairwoman, could not recall discussing or voting on changing its duration to three years or on the new monthly retirement payment.
Concerns about the operations of the Housing Authority led Kriseman to order a review of the board's performance a few months ago. His order was prompted by a Tampa Bay Times investigation that showed how complaints about Love’s behavior toward senior staff were not disclosed during the 2017 pay raise discussions. The Times also found that in 2016, Love lived rent-free for nine months in an apartment designated for low-income families and used agency funds to pay for his furniture and electric bills despite his six-figure salary.
Love said his stay in a low-income apartment was in lieu of his contract’s relocation package, which required the agency to pay his rent for six months. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development didn’t agree with the CEO and cited the agency for misuse of low-income housing.
TAMPA BAY TIMES INVESTIGATION: ST. PETERSBURG HOUSING AUTHORITY
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_times.