St. Petersburg Housing Authority asks court to block board firings

ST. PETERSBURG — The city’s housing agency is asking a judge to block Mayor Rick Kriseman from removing three of its board members from office.

In a lawsuit filed in circuit court, the St. Petersburg Housing Authority is accusing Kriseman of illegally seeking to remove housing agency CEO Tony Love by replacing board members with people who will “follow his directive to terminate the CEO.”

The lawsuit claims that the “neglect” and “misconduct” Kriseman cited in his decision to remove board members is just a pretext to indirectly bring about Love’s termination. The Housing Authority will be irreparably harmed if an injunction is not granted to stay the removal.

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It also asks the court to declare that Kriseman can’t remove board members just because he disagrees with their decisions.

“The city wants to put people on the board (whose) first priority is to remove Mr. Love because (Kriseman) disagrees with your decision to allow Mr. Love to stay in place and run the Housing Authority,” the agency’s attorney Charley Harris told board members at an April 10 emergency meeting.

State law gives Kriseman the authority to recommend appointments and removals of Housing Authority board members to city council. The agency is otherwise autonomous and its seven board members, who serve on a voluntary basis, provide the only oversight.

Last week, Kriseman formally started the legal process to remove board chairman Harry Harvey and board members Delphinia Davis and Ann Sherman White for what he deemed “misconduct” and “neglect of duty.” City council members are scheduled to vote on his recommendation May 16.

The city has sent a report to all three detailing a set of “six charges,” such as allowing the agency’s CEO to live in an apartment designated for low-income families and failing to follow Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law. Harvey and Davis also failed to disclose complaints made by senior staff about bullying by CEO Tony Love when they recommended his annual pay raise, the report states.

Sherman White’s removal is also based on repeated absences from meetings. She was appointed by Kriseman in 2017 but missed five meetings in 2018 and was late twice.

Kriseman earlier this year replaced two board members by declining to renew them for a second term.

City spokesman Ben Kirby said the city can’t comment on the housing agency’s litigation.

The mayor ordered city legal staff to review the performance of the agency’s board after a Tampa Bay Times investigation found members approved a 7 percent pay raise for Love in 2017 even though some members complained that they hadn’t seen his evaluation.

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. The CEO was earning $140,000 per year at the time.

Love said the stay 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 and cited the agency for misuse of low-income housing.

Contact Christopher O’Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_times.

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