Is this man's job worth $220,500?

Early edition

Published November 19, 2006

Darrell Irions, the executive director of the St. Petersburg and Pinellas County housing authorities, quietly has become one of the highest paid housing executives in the country.

Irions will earn $220,500 in 2006 — more than Florida’s governor, more than the mayors of St. Petersburg and Tampa.
He is better paid than the even the head of the New York City Housing Authority, the largest housing authority in the country.

When told Irions’ salary, a New York housing authority official quipped: “I’ll be on the next flight down.”

Under a unique agreement, Irions has directed the St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and Dunedin housing authorities since 2004.

“That’s three different boards, three different mindsets, three different ways of people wanting things to go,” said Irions, 53, a former marine who worked in housing agencies in Chicago, Denver and Nebraska before arriving in St. Petersburg in 1995.

Irions has saved both the St. Petersburg and Pinellas County agencies from near disaster, said Walt Smyth, a member of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority’s board of commissioners. He credited Irions with drastically raising each agency’s rating with the federal government. Both agencies provide assistance for low-income residents seeking housing.

“I think he’s worth it,” said Harry Harvey, the chairman of the St. Petersburg board of commissioners.

Irions’ salary is smaller than the combined total of what separate directors for St. Petersburg and Pinellas County authorities would be paid, officials say. In 2004 — before Irions had both jobs — Irions earned $131,000 as the city’s housing director while Pinellas County paid a separate director another $142,000.