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Monitor to watch himself in new role

By LEONORA LaPETER

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- For the past few years, Anthony Penna has monitored the removal of lead-based paint at the Jordan Park public housing complex for a federal court.

Now the monitor will also get paid to do the lead-paint work.

The St. Petersburg Housing Authority on Thursday awarded Penna's company, Associated Consulting Professionals Inc., a contract that could pay him up to $200,000 for monitoring, testing and inspections of court-ordered lead paint work at Jordan Park during the next few years. They also gave him another $30,745 to train and supervise two workers to do the lead paint stabilization before an Oct. 31 deadline.

Penna and an authority architect had recommended that the authority reject the seven bids received to do the lead stabilization work this month because none of the bidders is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency, as a new federal regulation requires. Penna's company is certified by EPA.

Authority commissioners, still smarting from a HUD Inspector General audit that raised questions about its bidding practices, did not overlook the implications of Penna's more involved role.

"He does the inspection, he does the work, he clears whether the work is done or not -- that just won't cut it," said Commissioner J.W. Cate. "I can't accept that."

But board members had little choice. The work must be done by an Oct. 31 deadline set by the federal court. There is not enough time to bid the work out again and get it done before that deadline.

So Penna was the only choice.

The Housing Authority faces a federal court order to remove lead-based paint from Jordan Park units. The order came in a 1995 lawsuit filed by Jordan Park parents concerned about their children ingesting the lead paint common in the Depression-era complex.

"I think conceivably you could argue there is a conflict because we would be paying him to inspect us," said Frazier Carraway, the authority's lawyer. "So I don't see this as any more of a conflict. He has an independent obligation to perform these inspections, and if the plaintiffs in this case had an objection, they would say so."

Steve Hanlon, a lawyer for the Jordan Park parents, said Wednesday that he has no concerns about Penna performing the work, as well as inspecting it.

"I'm confident he's the right guy to do that," Hanlon said. "He is a vigorous advocate for the tenants out there, and he has frequently pushed the authority beyond where it wanted to go."

The federal judge who originally handled the case, Henry Lee Adams Jr., declined to comment on the case Thursday.

Penna originally was asked to monitor the complete removal of lead from Jordan Park, but the authority stalled on the work after the decision was reached to demolish the public housing complex.

An amended settlement reached in 1999 called on the authority to perform stabilization work, or sanding and cleanup, on a number of buildings, including the 60-plus units now inhabited by residents who chose to stay behind during the demolition.

But because the authority chose not to remove the lead entirely, it must perform lead paint stabilization every year. And Penna must report to the court that it has been done.

Penna was on a hunting trip in the Arctic Circle and could not be reached for comment Thursday.

To date, he has received $265,000 for his services to the authority, said Darrell J. Irions, executive director of the Housing Authority.

Irions said that in the past housing authority employees performed the lead paint stabilization. Later, when a private management company, H.J. Russell, took over Jordan Park, its employees did the work.

Robin Adams, director of General Services, said she thought Penna had received $125 per unit, or $24,875, to "coordinate" the work of the employees, but she wasn't sure if that meant he was responsible for it. Penna will receive $265 per unit in his current supervisory role.

Adams said she called the Department of Housing and Urban Development and informed it of Penna's dual roles. She was told it is acceptable.

Commissioners said they would attempt to find certified bidders besides Penna for any future lead paint stabilization work at the complex. After 2002, the issue may become moot, because the buildings will be demolished and the residents will be moved into a brand new community of duplexes, apartments and homes for low-income residents.

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