City investigation finds employee OK'd conflicts of interest

Employee has since retired, but he previously sued over a costly demotion

By Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM

Darrell Griffin, former program manager for the city of Jacksonville's Division of Housing and Community Development

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The city of Jacksonville’s inspector general has released the results of an investigation into a now-retired city employee who was the subject of an I-TEAM investigation more than three years ago.

In 2015, Darrell Griffin was the affordable housing coordinator within the Housing and Community Development Division of the city’s Neighborhoods Department. In September of that year, the city’s Council Auditor released an audit of the State Housing Initiatives Partnership, or SHIP, program. The program works with developers on affordable rental housing units for low- and moderate-income families. A 2016 I-TEAM report showed how the audit raised questions about how the city was administering the funding obtained through the program.

Following the audit, the city’s inspector general launched an investigation into possible procurement policy violations by Griffin. The investigation found that Griffin allowed nonprofit developers who were taking part in the program to hire construction companies that were owned by officers of the organizations, on four separate construction projects. According to the report, that violated the conflict of interest clause of the contract for each project. The investigation also found Griffin didn’t ensure that each developer got enough quotes for each project.

DOCUMENT: Inspector general's report on Darrell Griffin

The 2015 audit stated the city was pursuing disciplinary action against Griffin, which could possibly include termination. Griffin wasn’t terminated, but he was removed from the job of affordable housing coordinator, which was an appointed position. He returned to another job within city government as recreation planning and grants coordinator, with a pay cut of $36,673.

Following his demotion, Griffin sued the city in federal court, claiming racial discrimination. A judge ruled in favor of the city and dismissed the suit in 2017. Griffin later appealed the decision to the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, but the appellate judges upheld the lower court’s ruling.

Court documents spell out more details of Griffin’s demotion. According to the appellate court’s decision, all appointed city employees are required to submit letters of resignation when a new mayor is elected, as Mayor Lenny Curry was in May 2015. The new administration can then choose which appointed employees will be retained in their appointed role. As instructed, Griffin submitted one such resignation letter in June 2015. As the city was responding to the draft version of the SHIP audit that fall, Griffin was asked to either resign from his position as affordable housing coordinator or be placed on administrative leave while an investigation was conducted. Griffin opted to go on leave. While he was on leave, city officials chose to accept his previously submitted resignation letter, due to the draft audit report’s findings.

Griffin retired last month, after 30 years of working for the city.

The inspector general’s report recommended a variety of corrective actions, including monitoring the requirements and compliance of contracts within the Housing and Community Development Division, creating a checklist to ensure contract compliance, and updating the conflict of interest provisions of the contracts. The mayor’s office agreed with the recommendations.

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