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Former Pinellas commissioner waits to see if his “unhiring” lawsuit against county can continue

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Before Norm Roche was elected to the Pinellas commission in 2010, he had spent a decade as a county employee. So when he lost his bid for re-election to former state Rep. Ed Hooper in the Republican primary, he figured he could go back to work for the county.

He figured wrong.

Roche said he was turned down for 26 county positions. On his 27th attempt, he was successful.

He was hired April 28, 2015, as a customer service specialist. He passed all the background and other checks county employees undergo. He was fingerprinted, photographed, given the same employee number he’d had before, and received an employment packet containing a “welcome aboard” letter. He was told he’d start work on May 18, 2015.

But he never started. Roche said an assistant county administrator, Paul Sacco, called him on May 8, 2015, and told him not to report to work because he could not be hired. Roche said he tried to find out why but was denied an explanation and public records.

So, in December, he sued the county, County Administrator Mark Woodard, Sacco, and unidentified county commissioners who may have been involved in the “un-hiring” decision. The county has not responded to the suit, but asked instead that Roche’s claims be denied. Woodard could not be reached for comment.

The case went to court earlier this week. Now Roche is waiting to see if the judge kicks out his case or allows it to proceed.

Roche, who was an often controversial commissioner for his views and statements, says that county hiring should be based on merit, not on political views or other political criteria. Among other things, Roche is asking the courts to decide if the county and other defendants was not only to “unhire” him but to “black ball” him from county employment and to make sure he’d never work for the county again despite his experience and qualifications. Roche is also asking for an unspecified amount of damages for what he calls the wrongful actions of the county and Pinellas officials.

Roche’s third claim involves public records. Roche alleges he paid the county $576.20 for records that pertained to his retraction of employment. The documents he received did not include “any reasoning or explanation for the ‘unhire’ action,” according to the suit.

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