Judge allows former Pinellas commissioner’s lawsuit to continue

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A judge has denied a motion by Pinellas County attorneys to dismiss a lawsuit brought against County Administrator Mark Woodard and others by former Commissioner Norm Roche.

Roche has accused county officials of refusing to hire him, withdrawing a job offer and denying him public records.

“I’m encouraged,” Roche said of the ruling. “I’m not dancing for joy. It’s been a heartbreak. … It’s bittersweet.”

Woodard was in a meeting and could not be reached for comment.

Roche spent a decade as a county employee before successfully running for the County Commission in 2010. His four years on the board were peppered with controversy, and many of his views were unpopular with fellow commissioners. Roche ran for re-election in 2014, but was defeated in the Republican primary by former state Rep. Ed Hooper.

Roche tried to go back to work for the county. He applied for 26 jobs, then on his 27th try, he was hired as a customer service specialist. He passed the background and other checks that all county employees underwent and was given a “welcome aboard” letter and a start date of May 18, 2015.

Before he could report to work, Roche said an assistant county administrator, Paul Sacco, called and told him he could not be hired. Roche said he tried to find out why and who were involved in the “un-hiring” decision but was denied public records.

Roche sued Woodard, Sacco and unknown county commissioners in December. The county moved to dismiss the case. And, Wednesday, Roche said he found out a judge had denied the motion. Roche said he had not read the decision yet so was unable to comment on the reasoning.

Roche said he’s not sure what the next step is. But he does plan to continue with his case. Among other strategies, Roche plans to depose Woodard and Sacco. He also “absolutely” plans to depose county commissioners.

“It breaks my heart” to do this, Roche said. “I served the county all my life. That’s all I want to do. This is not fun. I don’t want to do this (but) right is right.”