St. Pete's 22nd Street Redevelopment Corporation under scrutiny

7:25 PM, Oct 21, 2010   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - He stepped down in shame as president after accusations of spending community funds on personal expenses.  Then, his not-for-profit agency hired him back in a more lucrative role.

An audit of the 22nd Street Redevelopment Corporation (RDC) revealed president Keith D. Harris admitted in his April 2009 resignation letter to a "lapse in good judgement and reckless spending on my behalf that has caused great harm to the organization."

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  • Click here for the City of St. Petersburg's Audit

    The audit identified several dozen questionable expendatures from April 1, 2008 through April 28, 2009 that amounted to $5,878 in potential losses.  The 22nd St. RDC receives $38,000 a year in taxpayer dollars to help revitalize the historic Midtown business district.

    But the agency's directors voted against pressing charges on the misappropriations.  Instead, Harris was hired as the 22nd St. RDC manager - it's only paying position.

    According to the audit, Harris then signed several paychecks back to the agency, "indicating that Mr. Harris may have been repaying a loan (or) other debt to the company."  Sixty questionable expendatures traced back to Harris accounted for $5,878.50.

    When local businesses complained to councilmembers Karl Nurse and Wengay Newton, they froze funds to the agency and have since played an active role in reorganizing the 22nd St. RDC.  They say they don't want the innocent businesses there to suffer.

    But they say the city may be unable to discipline Harris since the agency is a private, not-for-profit organization and its' board of directors voted against discipline. 

    One connection that raises eyebrows is Harris' relative, Annette Howard, who served on the 22nd St. RDC board of directors.  She is also a city employee in the Economic Development department; it's the same department that funds the RDC.

    "If you get a paycheck from the people of this city," said Mayor Bill Foster, "you will be held to a higher standard."

    Foster, who was not yet elected when the alleged misappropriations took place, says he is pursuing an aggressive approach toward corruption in the city through the audit department.

    He says the 22nd St. RDC audit could lead to a more in-depth audit of Howard's involvement.  He also said the economic development department is involved in at least one other significant audit at this time, regarding questionable real estate transactions relating to Senior Administrator Goliath Davis' aunt.

    Foster said the real estate audit has already raised some red flags and discipline could be forthcoming in the near future.

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