Pinellas County Archives - Page 5 of 22 - SaintPetersBlog

Norm Roche asks judge to overturn her decision in ‘un-hiring’ lawsuit

Norm Roche
Norm Roche

Former Pinellas Commissioner Norm Roche has asked a judge to reconsider her decision that the county did not violate the state public records law.

Roche contended Pinellas officials had failed to give him documents and other records concerning his termination from county employment before his first day of work. Earlier this month, Circuit Judge Cynthia Newton disagreed, saying Roche had “failed to meet the burden of establishing evidence that there were un-produced responsive documents within [the county’s] control.”

In his motion, Roche says that some records — telephone text messages — were supplied only after he had filed the lawsuit. Roche adds he knows other documents should exist but have not been turned over. Those documents include written approvals of his hiring that are a required part of the county’s employment process.

“For instance, the plaintiff, Norm Roche, testified without contradiction that his initial hiring required supervisor approvals in writing. No documents with the supervisor approvals of his hiring were produced. None of [the county’s] witnesses rebutted or contradicted this testimony,” the appeal says.

It adds, “It was un-rebutted that plaintiff is a former county commissioner and county employee. As such, [Roche] has personal knowledge of the procedures and requirements of the Pinellas County hiring process. None of the witnesses contradicted or rebutted plaintiff on this specific point. The ‘documents’ were not produced in full.”

The motion asks that Newton overturn her decision and “recognize the un-rebutted, un-contradicted evidence that all of the public records response to Norm Roche’s request were not produced timely … and for an order for Pinellas County to produce the communications and documents requested.”

Newton’s order only applied to one part of Roche’s lawsuit. The rest of the lawsuit is still being litigated.

The suit claims that county officials refused to hire him, then hired him only to withdraw the offer before his first day of work. Roche says he was “un-hired.”

Mark Woodard
Mark Woodard

Roche worked for the county for about a decade before his 2010 election to the county commission. His one term was noted for controversy, and he was known for expressing views unpopular with many of his fellow commissioners. He lost a re-election bid in the 2014 Republican Primary to Ed Hooper. Democrat Pat Gerard subsequently defeated Hooper.

After Roche’s loss, he unsuccessfully applied for 26 county jobs. He got the 27th job – as a $14-$15-an-hour customer service specialist. He passed the background check and all other checks county employees undergo. He was issued a “welcome aboard” letter and given a start date.

But before he could start work, Assistant County Administrator Paul Sacco called and withdrew the offer. Sacco has since testified County Administrator Mark Woodard made the decision.

But the county was not forthcoming when Roche began asking why the job offer was rescinded. He says officials refused to meet with him and also refused him public records.

Pinellas County chooses new assistant county administrator

Bill Breckinridge
Bill Breckinridge

Pinellas County has hired a new assistant county administrator, Bill Breckinridge, a U.S. Navy veteran and engineering professional with 20 years of experience, ranging from public works to environmental management.

Breckinridge, who started work Monday, will oversee the following county departments: the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport, public works, and solid waste and utilities. He replaces Pick Talley, who held the position on an interim basis since last year and previously served Pinellas County for nearly two decades leading up to retirement.

As a commander in the U.S. Navy, Breckinridge served at home and abroad; more recently, he managed logistics while stationed at the Pentagon. His professional background has encompassed capital projects, utilities, facilities program management, budgeting, and energy and environmental management. He is a registered professional engineer and certified energy manager with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy and a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Florida.

Mark Woodard
Mark Woodard

“I am grateful for the opportunity to join the excellent team at Pinellas County and work with our partners to deliver first class services to all of our citizens,” Breckinridge said.

Breckinridge brings a focus on leadership and collaboration as he works to guide his departments in fulfilling the county’s strategic goals.

“We are excited to welcome Bill to the county,” Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard said. “His diverse career background and proven leadership will be great assets as the county continues to fulfill its mission of doing things to serve the public.”

Multi-million dollar Gateway Express project gets the go ahead

Pinellas County commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to sign an agreement with the state Department of Transportation for a project designed to improve transportation in the Gateway area.

Karen Seel“It’s going to greatly improve transportation in mid-county,” Commissioner Karen Seel said. “Hooray.”

Commissioner Dave Eggers agreed, saying, “This is truly an exciting day.”

Seel “enthusiastically” made the motion to accept the deal.

The Gateway Expressway has been under development for 15 to 20 years, officials said. Construction is expected to cost about $412 million. Pinellas County will provide about $55 million of that funding. Construction is projected to start in the summer of 2017 and be finished in June 2021.

Part of the Gateway Express project will begin on the south side of the Bayside Bridge and link up with 118th Avenue N. Another portion will begin at U.S. 19 and 118th. Yet another part will affect I-275 from Gandy to the Howard Frankland Bridge.

When complete, portions of the roadway will have tolls, some variable and some static. But there will also be non-tolled lanes. Other lanes will be elevated although street level lanes will also be maintained.

The Gateway Express is not a part of the Tampa Bay Express project, but it is designed to link to that and other road improvements.

The FDOT has posted a video showing the project on the department’s YouTube channel here.

High-speed ferry between St. Petersburg and Tampa is a go

With a 5 to 1 vote, Pinellas County on Tuesday became the fourth governmental body to collaborate on the launching of a high-speed ferry between Tampa and St. Petersburg.

The vote cements a deal among St. Petersburg, Tampa and Hillsborough County to link the two counties by a high-speed ferry.

Comm_Dave_EggersThe lone holdout was Commissioner Dave Eggers who has opposed the proposal from the beginning. Among Eggers’ objections are a lack of market research on the viability of the project and the high risk of failure.

“I’m not in favor of this project for a number of reasons,” Eggers said. “I can’t support the use of public funds for a risky venture with no market research to back it up.”

Eggers was not the only skeptic. Largo resident Jeff Moakley said he believes officials are “frivolously” spending money for a “government subsidized boat ride on Tampa Bay.”

“It’s strictly a Petersburg and Tampa issues. It’s not a county issue,” Moakley said. “You’re just throwing away $350,000 to subsidize something two mayors want so badly they can’t see straight.”

If all goes well, the ferry will launch Nov. 1 for a six-month pilot project to test the viability of the idea. To get the project going, four governments – St. Petersburg, Tampa, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties – have each agreed to put up $350,000, or one quarter of the total $1.4 million cost of the pilot. Pinellas’ portion will come from BP settlement money.

The purpose of the pilot is to test the viability of a ferry service both for daily commuters and for tourists who wish to cross the bay. Plans are for HMS Ferries to provide a minimum of two trips between St. Petersburg and Tampa Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays and Sundays. There will be a minimum of three trips on Fridays. Officials believe that schedule will test both the commuter market and the tourist market.

kriseman2The ride would cost $10 for a one-way ticket although St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said officials are working on weekly and monthly passes at greatly reduces fees. The fees for children who ride the ferry might also be lower.

“The rate … is going to help determine the ridership,” Kriseman said. The difficulty, he said, is finding “that sweet spot” for a cost that encourages people to ride the ferry but also provides profit for HMS, the private company running the ferry.

“I think you’re going to see different rates,” Kriseman said.

ken-welch-photoCommissioner Ken Welch said the cooperation among the four governments was unprecedented and boded well for future projects, “except the Rays. We’re going to keep them in Pinellas County.”

Welch made the motion to support the ferry. Pat Gerard seconded his motion. John Morroni, who is on sick leave, did not vote.

Kriseman gave each a sea captain’s cap to celebrate the deal.

Former Pinellas commissioner Norm Roche loses Round 1 of lawsuit

Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Newton has denied a plea that Pinellas County turn over public records to former Commissioner Norm Roche.

Newton said in her order, filed Monday, that state law requires governments and other public agencies to make records available. However, she wrote, Roche failed to produce proof that such records exist.

Roche, she said, testified that “based on common sense and conventional wisdom, he believed that additional documents … existed.” The county, she said, “clearly refuted all of [Roche’s] claims about the existence of such documents.”

Roche said, “The ruling is perplexing given the hard evidence presented, along with corroborating testimony by me and several of the witnesses. However, it is not entirely unexpected. Going up against the county within the circuit comes with its own set of special challenges. We hope to get some answers to all of this when all is said and done.”

Roche is suing Pinellas claiming officials blackballed him from working for the county after he lost a re-election bid. Roche, a former county employee, was turned down for 26 jobs with Pinellas after he left office. He was hired for the 27th job he applied for – a customer service specialist paying about $15 an hour. But before he could report for work, he was told that he would not be hired. Roche called it being “unhired.”

Part of Roche’s lawsuit involved an allegation that county officials failed to provide him with public records concerning his employment status. That’s what Newton ruled on.

Roche’s cause of action alleging he was blackballed is still ongoing. He has asked for a jury trial.

USF researchers say they found dangerous bacteria after sewage spill

A September 2014 sewer line break in unincorporated Pinellas County caused untreated wastewater to flow into a St. Petersburg neighborhood and Boca Ciega Bay at a rate of 250 to 500 gallons a minute.

Now, researchers from the University of South Florida investigating the aftermath of the break have found dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the untreated wastewater that had gushed into both neighborhoods and Boca Ciega Bay.

Their findings, just published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology and announced in a news release, raise several significant public health concerns. 

First, a strain of bacteria found in the water tested resistant to vancomycin, an antibiotic considered to be a “last resort” treatment for serious infections that do not respond to other antibiotics. Second, the combination of aging sewer infrastructure and an increase in stormwater flooding with extreme rain events increases the likelihood of more spills occurring and continuing to spread these dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria in populated areas. Finally, the researchers found that the vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) bacteria found in the untreated waste water has a gene capable of transferring vancomycin resistance to other kinds of bacteria. This fuels the greater problem of increasing antibiotic resistance. 

The researchers sampled the water and soil for seven weeks following the spill from the broken sewer line which totaled about 500,000 gallons of released untreated sewage. Genes from the vancomycin-resistant bacteria were detected for nearly two weeks after the spill. 

“While we have known that raw sewage contains many disease-causing bacteria, this experience tells us that sewage and fecal pollution also carry vancomycin-resistant bacteria,” said Dr. Valerie Harwood, a professor in the USF Department of Integrative Biology and study co-author. “Most VRE are confined to hospitals, but detecting them in waters of the Tampa Bay community is quite concerning. People need to be aware of what may be entering the water after heavy rains, accidental spills, or after intentional sewage releases.” 

According to lead study author, USF Ph.D. student Suzanne Young, their finding is also a public health “wake-up call” to be more prudent with the use of antibiotics in both humans and animals. 

“The more antibiotics we use — in both humans and animals — the more the antibiotic resistant organisms and antibiotic resistance genes can enter the environment and contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistance, especially for those drugs considered the “last resort’ for many infections,” explained Young. “Also, we need to invest in more sustainable infrastructure for managing stormwater and wastewater to decrease the frequency of sewage spills.” 

The researchers also called for more monitoring of VRE and the presence of resistance genes outside of the hospital setting where they are more commonly found. 

According to the authors, the bacteria they discovered in the sewage spill waters — VRE — are on the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s list of serious threats. 

“The spread of pathogens with high levels of vancomycin resistance beyond hospitals and into the community is a public health threat,” concluded the researchers. “While further studies are needed to better define risks, knowing these pathogens are in Tampa Bay sewage is an important development.”

Baby declared dead ‘self-resuscitates,’ parents accuse Bayfront of negligence

In April 2012, 28-year-old Desiree Little went into labor at Bayfront Hospital.

Complications forced Little to receive an emergency C-section for the birth of her son, T.J. Drake, named after Terrence Drake, the 27 -year-old father.

The parents, both St. Petersburg residents, were not married, nor were they in a relationship.

After numerous resuscitation attempts, doctors allegedly declared baby T.J. dead, just 10 minutes old and weighed seven pounds three ounces.

Twelve minutes later, doctors heard a “gasp,” according to the chart by Dr. Escoto. T.J. had reportedly “self-resuscitated.”

After spending a short period in the NICU, the critically ill infant was transferred to the nearby All Children’s Hospital. Over the next week, T.J. suffered from seizures, which required Phenobarbital and a full body edema.

T.J.’s parents allege they were advised on multiple occasions to withdraw life support; they declined. The baby survived and after two weeks was discharged.

The parents claim staff at Bayfront made a series of errors, which left their son with severe brain damage.

A medical negligence suit filed in Pinellas County court says T.J. was born with “permanent neurological injuries” directly caused by the “negligence of the said Defendants (Bayfront and various staff) as will be set forth hereinafter.”

Injuries include “brain damage from birth hypoxia and/or asphyxia.”

“Defendants deviated from the prevailing standard of care for said healthcare providers in their care and treatment of Desiree Little and her minor son, and such negligence resulted in severe and permanent injury to the child,” the suit continues.

The negligence claims focus on numerous errors in care, such as inadequate charting of events, an alleged rupturing of Little’s membranes by the improper placing of a fetal scalp electrode and abandoning resuscitative efforts of the child after only 10 minutes.

Doctors Hayes and Escoto are also accused of negligence resulting in the child’s brain damage.

Due to the extreme carelessness, the suit suggests that Little and Drake will be forced to spend substantial sums of money on baby T.J.’s medical care and treatment, including surgeries, rehabilitative therapy and occupational therapy. They are seeking damages from both the hospital and staff.

As David Best, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, told “I’ve been involved in hundreds of these types of cases and this one is real unusual.”

Best said that “there’s no written standard of care” as to a specific time limit on resuscitating still born babies.  “It’s a bit subjective and dependent on a few things, but I’ve spoken to a doctor who’s examined the kid, and he thinks they should have tried for at least 20 minutes.

“[T.J. is] doing wonderfully well,” Best said, “considering he was dead, but it’s still a little early to determine how badly brain damaged he is.”

Best said he was in the middle of amending the complaint as filed “purely for legal purposes” as the initial filing was “rushed” to beat the statute of limitations.

Bayfront has not yet responded to the complaint, and could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Ending homelessness among veterans by the end of the year: Difficult but not impossible

The Obama administration’s goal to eliminate homelessness among military veterans by the end of the year could be a difficult mission as tens of thousands of vets remain on the streets, including perhaps 3,000 in Florida.

A point-in-time count in February around the Tampa Bay area counted nearly 400 veterans living on the streets of Pinellas County.

In Hillsborough County, 181 vets were without homes. That number represents a 42 percent drop from the previous year, but was more than the 170 counted in 2013, according to statistics provided by the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative.

“I’m happy to see that,” said Antoinette Hayes-Triplett, director of the initiative. “Of course, we always want more.”

While veteran homelessness across the nation varies widely state by state, locally, the administration’s goal is within reach, she said.

“I think we’ve finally got all the pieces together in our community,” she said. “I think (eliminating homelessness here) is realistic. When we talk about ending homelessness among veterans, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a single homeless veteran out there. It means that we have the resources to help anyone out there get into housing.

“And we’re on the verge of that here.”

The primary resources here include mostly landlords and owners of vacant apartments and houses stepping up to offer the space for homeless veterans.

“We need partners who have those units available,” Hayes-Triplett said. Rent would come from subsidies provided by the federal government through the initiative.

Some communities have more resources than others, she said, and some will hit the administration’s goal by the end of the year. Others will not.

“Some have already hit that mark,” she said, “but not many.”

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development, the agency that oversees and funds efforts to reduce homelessness in the United States, said the 2015 count, the most recent data available, found nearly 48,000 veterans living on the streets.

Of those, 3,926 were counted in Florida, which ranked second in the nation behind California, which tallied just over 11,000 homeless vets.

The Sunshine State is doing something right, though. Since 2009, homelessness among veterans fell by nearly half, HUD statistics say.

Earlier this month HUD and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs awarded nearly $38 million to help get veterans off the streets. The grants, awarded through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program, mainly assisted in paying rents for thousands of qualifying veterans across the country.

“Supporting the brave men and women who served our nation is not only our honor but also our responsibility,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro in a statement released June 2. “Joining the more than 111,000 formerly homeless veterans who have already found homes through this successful program, thousands more brave veterans will be able to start a new chapter in their lives.

“It’s a privilege to partner with communities dedicated to ensuring that no veteran has to call the streets their home.”

Joe Henderson: Unopposed candidates create ‘great void’ in local politics

Elections are supposed to be about choices, but after candidate qualifying ended in Florida last week, many of the elections are already decided.

Voters in 11 districts won’t get to choose their state senator because the incumbent faces no opposition — seven Republicans and four Democrats, if you’re keeping score. And in District 24, Pinellas County Republican incumbent Jeff Brandes faces only a write-in candidate.

The theme is the same in the state House, where 29 candidates face no opposition — 16 Republicans, 13 Democrats.

Twelve of 19 state attorney races are over before they start. Fourteen of 19 public defenders can hold victory parties. Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee is a winner. So are elections supervisor Craig Latimer, tax collector Doug Belden and County Commissioner Les Miller.

Three of the seven county commission races in Pinellas County didn’t make it to November, either. The Pinellas clerk of courts race ended on qualifying day.

What gives?

I don’t think there is one factor that explains it all.

In most, if not all, of those cases, opponents no doubt sized up the incumbent and the makeup of the district and decided it wasn’t worth the hassle of trying to raise enough money to compete.

Districts for statewide races are drawn with sometimes eerie precision that it’s almost too easy to predict the winner before the campaign even begins. Court-ordered redistricting now in effect may change some of that, but probably not all of it. That has a major dampening effect on an underdog pondering a challenge.

Voter apathy needs to be near the top of the list, too.

While debating the difference between Hillary and Trump in a bar might get you punched in the nose, local and even statewide races don’t have the same impact. I think it’s a safe bet that many voters can’t name their state senator or representative, even though those elected officials have a much more direct impact than someone running for president.

It takes a special something to get the attention of voters these days. A scandal might do it, as former Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner learned in 2012. Allegations that he sent porn to a female staffer in his office turned into a political tsunami that put a spotlight on a race that otherwise would have been relatively obscure.

But that’s the system we have now.

The major political parties in this state have become adept at speaking to themselves and rallying those few who give a hoot, but there is a great void out there waiting to be addressed that could change the way things get done.

Republicans have been much better than Democrats at working the system and getting what they want. That won’t change until opponents figure out how to make people understand that the closer to home a race is, the more they need to pay attention.


Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He has covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons — Ben and Patrick.

Pinellas County stands with Orlando, schedules blood drives

Charlie JusticePinellas County officials sent condolences and love to the city of Orlando and all the families impacted by the worst mass murder in American history.

Florida, they said, is one community and an attack on one city is an attack on each of us.

“Pinellas joins with our friends throughout Florida in standing with the people of Orlando,” said Charlie Justice, chairman of the Pinellas County Commission. “We stand resolute on principles of equality, freedom, justice and love. We will not retreat. We will keep moving forward. Today, we can all join together in a blood donation in honor of those who cannot.”

In response to depleted blood supply in the Orlando area, Pinellas County is partnering with OneBlood to host two blood drives, the first from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at the county courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater. The second is 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Pinellas County Utilities building, 14 S Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater.

The general public is encouraged to join county employees in this effort.

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