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Norm Roche files suit against Pinellas County — claims he’s been “blackballed” from being hired

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Norm Roche frequently disagreed with the other six members of the Pinellas County Commission during his one term in office that ended in 2014, but would any of them attempt to stop him from being hired by another part of the county government after he lost his bid for re-election last year?

That’s the explosive charge that Roche is making in a lawsuit filed last week in the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court in Pinellas County.

The 53-year-old Clearwater resident says he applied for 27 different jobs with the county from December 2014 through June 2015 and was rejected for all but one, a customer services specialist position in the county utilities department. But after being offered and accepting that job on April 28 of 2014, he was stunned when he received a phone call from Assistant County Administrator Paul Sacco on May 11 informing him that the job offer from Pinellas County government was “hereby rescinded,” with no further information provided.

“This negative action against Roche was inspired or directed or encouraged by unknown member or members of the county commission who sought to “blackball” from public employment in retaliation for position taken by Roche on the commission,” a section of the lawsuit reads.

Roche is suing Pinellas County for violation of public records for failing to provide all the information he requested about why the change in position by the county. He is also calling for declamatory judgment against Sacco, County Administrator Mark Woodard, and “unknown defendants,” a reference to county commissioners who he claims were instrumental in having the job offer pulled.

After failing several previous attempts for office, Roche was elected in 2010 over Democrat Calvin Harris as part of the Fueled by the same Tea Party energy that took over the nation, and his stances on certain issues alienated him from many of his colleagues on the board.

Most notably, Roche was the only outlier on the board who continued to maintain support for removing fluoride from the county’s water supply after the board reversed an earlier stance and voted to put it back into the supply in November of 2012. The issue was extremely controversial in Pinellas, and led in part to Roche’s defeat in his bid for re-election to his District 2 seat in 2014, when he lost to Ed Hooper in the Republican primary. (Two other board members who supported that position, Nancy Rostock and Neil Brickfield, suffered a similar fate in 2012).

The suit claims that Sacco told Roche that he was “‘just the messenger’ apparently for the County Administrator, Mark Woodard, and/or Commission (members) and that a letter would follow forthwith to explain the circumstances.”

However, that follow-up letter never came. Woodard told the Tampa Bay Times Tony Marrero back in June that he would not publicly comment, because Roche had hired an attorney at that time. The suit says that Woodard has failed to meet with Roche to discuss why his employment was rescinded.

That led to Roche filing a public-records request, but he says that the 228 pages he received from the county (at a cost of $576) left the identities and motivations of the people responsible for the decision “cloaked in secrecy.”

Roche worked for the county from 1994 to 2004, starting as a customer service specialist in the utilities department. He later worked as a branch operations manager and a public information specialist for the department.

Calls to an attorney representing Pinellas County, as well as to Woodard and Sacco, were not returned by the time of this posting. Jawdet I. Rubaii, the attorney for Roche, was also unavailable for comment Wednesday morning.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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