Following their official removal from appointment to the St. Petersburg Housing Authority (SPHA) Board last month, former SPHA commissioners Harry Harvey, Delphinia Davis and Ann Sherman-White filed a lawsuit Friday against the City of St. Petersburg.
The lawsuit asks the court to reverse the decision by St. Petersburg City Council, which voted to remove the commissioners from their offices overseeing the embattled Housing Authority. The Council’s decision upheld multiple charges compiled by the St. Petersburg City Attorney at the request of Mayor Rick Kriseman.
In his capacity as mayor, Kriseman has the power to appoint commissioners to the Housing Authority board and to remove commissioners based on “inefficiency or neglect of duty or misconduct in office.” The City Attorney compiled a list of complaints including excessive absences, misuse of property, breach of Sunshine Law and failure to file annual reports in an effort to prove both charges.
Reporting by the Tampa Bay Times first brought the actions of the SPHA board into question, when they found that the board approved a 7 percent pay increase for CEO Tony Love, despite repeated complaints about Love’s management practices and without seeing his management evaluations.
The petition filed in the lawsuit makes a number of claims against both Mayor Kriseman and City Council, including a claim that there was an ulterior motive behind Kriseman’s compilation of charges against the commissioners. It claims that because Mayor Kriseman could not terminate Love due to state statute, he “devised a plan to improperly remove commissioners and reappoint new commissioners in their place who will follow his directive to terminate the CEO.” Similarly, it suggests that City Council violated quasi-judicial proceedings by making public statements indicating their intent to remove commissioners from the SPHA board prior to the proceedings.
The petition also suggests that the City failed to provide proper notice of specific charges to each of the commissioners, while acknowledging that the charges were emailed to each commissioner and provided to SPHA and its general counsel. On the day before the May 16 hearing, the SPHA general counsel requested a 30-day extension to allow the commissioners to further review their charges, but the request was denied.
The lawsuit also takes issue with the quasi-judicial process. It claims that the commissioners’ due process rights were violated because they were not provided enough time for rebuttal in the quasi-judicial proceedings of City Council. The commissioners and their counsel did not attend the scheduled hearing on May 16.
Ultimately, the lawsuit rests on claims that the City Council denied the commissioners’ rights to due process, as “it failed to observe the requirements of the law and its decision was not supported by competent evidence much less substantial competent evidence.”