1. Opinion

Pasco home inspectors wrong to accept gifts

Published Apr. 17, 2012

The once-a-year inspections at privately owned homes in west Pasco included more than a checklist and a passing grade. The canvassing sometimes could come with gift cards, gratuities and an unheeded warning to end the inappropriate generosity.

The result is another embarrassment for the Pasco Housing Authority, which issued three-days suspensions to a trio of employees and reminded all of its staffers about avoiding the appearance of impropriety.

A formal audit revealed no evidence of a quid pro quo on behalf of property owner Sriya Harris, the west Pasco landlord whose generosity snared three inspectors. But, "it looked horrible,'' said Authority Chairman David Lambert.

Indeed. It's a collective display of poor judgment that reflects negatively on the agency and the rest of its employees who comprehend the boundaries between public employee and private contractor and act accordingly. Likewise, Harris should have respected the requests to end the practice and avoided any potential perception of wrongdoing.

The agency's employee manual explains why: Accepting gifts includes the possibility the benefactor is looking for favorable treatment and creates an impression the beneficiaries might be willing to accommodate them. Avoiding such scenarios should be simple common sense.

Instead, the gift-giving became part of a whistle-blower's lawsuit last year that alleged inspectors accepted bribes from landlords. Not bribes, it turned out. Just forbidden perks.

A new inspector general's report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could not substantiate the bribery claim, but the practice of accepting gifts violated agency policy. The suspensions are a legitimate punishment.

Tenants moving into a private home under the federal Section 8 housing program should have confidence the domicile they're occupying is worthy of habitation, not simply worthy of a freebie to the person signing an inspection report.