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Housing agency chief gets raise

After receiving a 10 percent boost, executive director Darrell J. Irions will earn more than the mayor of St. Petersburg.

By LEONORA LaPETER

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 29, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Just months after a federal audit questioned the management of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, the agency's board gave executive director Darrell J. Irions a 10 percent raise that will bring his salary to $106,700.

With little discussion, the board agreed at its meeting Thursday that Irions had done a good job and deserved the raise. Asked later about Irions' review, authority Chairman J.W. Cate said the audit wasn't even a consideration when the personnel committee got together and reviewed Irions.

"I don't remember any real discussion of the audit," Cate said. "We all thought that was a serious situation, but it was just a betterment program -- like going to the doctor and saying we need to cut down on fatty foods and take a pill for cholesterol. All the things the auditor commented on have been corrected and a couple things were not accurate."

The audit by HUD's Office of Inspector General found the Housing Authority misused thousands of dollars, mismanaged its rental voucher program and awarded contracts through questionable bidding practices.

Irions said his agency has corrected all the problems, and is awaiting clearance on just four of the 11 complaints in the report. "The St. Petersburg Housing Authority has been a high-performing agency as rated by HUD for the past four years of my tenure," Irions said, referring to HUD's internal evaluation of the agency. It is separate from the inspector general report.

Irions now makes more money than Mayor David Fischer, whose salary is set at $100,000 by the City Charter, making it difficult for him to receive a raise.

"The mayor is underpaid," Irions said, when asked why he should earn more than the mayor.

"Everybody is beating me," Fischer joked, upon hearing Thursday of the Housing Authority's decision.

Irions supervises 65 employees, while Fischer oversees some 3,000, but the mayor said Irions deserved the raise.

"He has a tough job," Fischer added. "There are a lot of jobs around making $120,000 or $130,000 that aren't nearly as controversial and tough to handle as his right now. For normal housing authority directors, the buildings are up and everything is going along. But what he's managing is a lot tougher."

Irions pointed out that he declined a raise last year, opting instead to take an additional 15 days of vacation a year -- for a total of 30 days. He said housing authority directors in the surrounding area, including Pinellas County and Tampa, all make more than him.

As of April, Tampa paid its director $125,190 and Pinellas recently granted its director a 66 percent raise to $122,634. Irions makes more than the Clearwater Housing Authority director, his wife, Jacqueline Rivera, who earns a little more than $80,000 a year.

Irions said his raise will finally bring him in line with the salary he earned five years ago as chief administrator for the housing authority in Chicago.

The personnel committee used a checklist to review Irions that included whether he had made progress on the board's goals, his relations with the commissioners, the results of an independent audit and an annual scored evaluation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But the reviewers didn't fill out any forms on Irions' efforts to meet those goals, and discussion about his performance during a personnel committee meeting Aug. 24 seemed to center around the bad press the Housing Authority had received lately, according to the minutes of the meeting.

One of authority's goals is to develop a better public image and generate community support for the agency. Cate said the authority has taken steps toward that goal by hiring a part-time public relations employee.

"Well, we thought he'd done it all as well as we asked him to," Cate said.

In other business, the authority:

Authorized Irions to negotiate with other banking institutions for financial services after being dissatisfied with the service they have been receiving at Bank of America. Authority officials said they've had credit cards denied and had fraudulent checks pass through their accounts despite a check verification system. Bank of America officials could not be reached for comment.

Learned that a group of residents who sued the authority to stop the demolition of Jordan Park public housing complex had dropped the lawsuit Sept. 20. A federal judge refused in May to stop the demolition, which was completed in August. The residents, Shirley Blake and the Jordan Park Residents' Management Corp., had sought damages in the lawsuit. Received a report from the authority's program integrity coordinator, a new position created in June to combat fraud by tenants and landlords. More than 100 tenants and 18 landlords owe the authority money, and Ray DiRusso will spend his time investigating fraud and making sure tenants and landlords alike repay any money they owe.

- Staff writer Bryan Gilmer contributed to this report.

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