Tampa, Florida -- Money is tight at the Tampa Housing Authority. The agency says it's having trouble making ends meet, but the 10 News Investigators found that the THA, whose mission is to help poor families put a roof over their heads, isn't having any problem putting their own staff up in fancy hotels across the country.
The Tampa Housing Authority gets $79 million a year to provide for Tampa's most needy citizens, but the Authority says they're struggling to do more with less.
At the agency's last board meeting, CEO Jerome Ryans told the board, "We are still expected to do the same thing we have been doing in public housing the past 10 years with less money. We can't continue to maintain public housing as we see it today based on our funding level."
But while the THA is singing the blues over funding cuts, the agency still seems to have plenty of money for travel. From the streets of San Francisco to the French Quarter in New Orleans, from Nashville, the Music City, to the Windy City of Chicago, New York, Savannah, Washington DC, Charleston, Boston. The Investigators analyzed the agency's records and found huge numbers when it come to travel.
In the past three years, the Tampa Housing Authority has spent more than $500,000 on travel and training, and is budgeted to spend $234,000 this year alone.
Despite budget cuts, the THA still increased next year's travel budget to $306,000; that's up more than 30 percent.
The Investigators also reviewed other agencies within the same 3-year time period.
While the Tampa Housing Authority was spending almost $504,000, we discovered it was spending 64 percent more on travel and training than the Miami Dade Housing Authority. Miami-Dade spent $307,000 in the same time period while operating on a budget almost five times larger.
After the last board meeting, we went to CEO Jerome Ryans, who declined to do a sit-down interview, and said, "You've spent the past three years..."
Ryans turned, walked away, and pointed a staffer, saying, "She'll give you a copy."
Ryans had an agency statement typed out. We told the CEO, "I would like to know from you about hundreds of thousands of dollars you have allowed."
Records reveal Ryans has spent $28,729 traveling to conferences. But Ryans didn't want to answer our questions.
We've seen this before. Ryans ran from us in May, when we questioned him about his $214,000 salary, which is more than $50,000 in excess of the Congressionally mandated $155,000 for HUD executives.
At the time, Ryans briskly told us, "I'm not going to apologize about my salary" and then walked away.
We also wanted to ask Ryans why taxpayers picked up his bill for valet parking in Orlando, or Best of Boston tours for board members and staff, or why several staffers stayed at expensive hotels -- in some cases for up to $400 a night.
We also wanted to question board chair Dr. Hazel Harvey about her and fellow board members' travel. We said, "Dr Harvey, you're the chairman of the board, and the board itself has spent almost $100,000 of taxpayers' money going to San Francisco, Boston, New Orleans."
We asked Dr. Harvey, "Is that appropriate when the housing authority is having financial woes?"
Harvey responded, "I don't have a comment, thank you."
"So the taxpayers don't have a right to know about this?" we asked.
Harvey replied, "They can come to this office and ask any questions they want to."
But the king of travel is the number two man in the agency, Leroy Moore. Moore has spent $60,000 of public money traveling to conferences in the past three and a half years. That's more money than the entire Orlando Housing Authority budgeted for travel and training in 2011.
We asked, "Mr. Moore, which city did you enjoy most on the taxpayers' dime? San Francisco, Boston, New Orleans, Chicago, or New York?"
Moore said, "Mike Deeson, you have received all of our reports the last five years, which shows we spend between $160,000 and $180,000 a year on travel and training."
He added, "You're really being obnoxious. I don't know why your station allows you to continue to put out this junk, but it's really running thin."
But what is really running thin is the budget for Tampa Housing Authority, which readily admits it may not be able to provide the same degree of services for its residents, some of whom live in run down un-air conditioned apartments while board members and staff book rooms at golf and beach resorts to attend conferences on the taxpayers' dime.
We tried one more time to ask Moore to justify his travel, saying, "You've spent $60,000."
Before we could finish our question, Moore started to walk away from us in the middle of the board room and said, "Do you want to continue to be obnoxious? We are having a meeting."
When we tried one more time, asking, "Will you answer the question?"
Moore told us, "I've answered your question."
However, there are many more questions to be answered and the questions will be coming from Washington, DC. U.S. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa says he is shocked by what he calls excessive travel by public housing authorities across the United States. Now the senator is calling for an investigation into the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides the majority of funding for the Tampa Housing Authority.
We'll stay on this, and we'll let you know what happens.