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2 county officials reassigned amid inquiry

A woman accuses one community improvement official of discrimination and another of mishandling reports.

By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2003

TAMPA -- A department director for Hillsborough County government and one of his top managers were removed from their jobs temporarily Friday after a new allegation of racial discrimination surfaced.

The reassignments come in the wake of criticism from commissioners in the past week that the administration had bungled two prior unrelated discrimination claims.

Don Shea, director of the county's Department of Community Improvement, which oversees affordable housing programs and code enforcement, was reassigned from his office near Brandon to the downtown County Center. One of his top managers, Irv Lau, will be moved there Monday.

The shuffling came Friday after another manager in the department, Rosa Villalonga, filed a grievance against Shea the day before, alleging she had been the subject of racial discrimination by Shea. Details of her claim were not available late Friday.

Earlier in the week, the same woman filed a separate claim against Lau, alleging that he had mishandled reporting requirements relating to federal housing programs. She also said Shea had been aware of the problem. A group of employees made similar claims in a pending federal lawsuit against the county last year.

Both men will be given new duties while county officials and their attorneys investigate the allegations. The moves are not considered demotions, and there will be no loss of pay.

"I, in the abundance of caution, have asked the two of them to step aside so I can send a group of people in to review the situation," said Assistant County Administrator Ed Hunzeker. "We will have a team of individuals working in conjunction with county attorney's office, and we'll see if there's any merit to those representations."

Hunzeker said he would name a temporary head for the department next week.

Shea said Friday that the claims were baseless but that he understood the administration's actions.

"I welcome this opportunity to vindicate myself," he said.

Villalonga is a former employee with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees federal affordable housing programs. She has worked for the county for a little more than a year.

Her complaint comes after a rancorous couple of weeks at the County Center in which commissioners twice criticized the administration in connection with two discrimination claims. In the most recent case, a solid waste department employee alleged repeated incidences of racism in the workplace.

A week earlier, two commissioners questioned a perceived promotion for Human Resources Director Sharon Wall shortly after a lawsuit found fault with her department in a discrimination claim.

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