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Witness: Mark Woodard made decision not to hire former Pinellas County commissioner

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard made the decision to “unhire” Norm Roche, according to court testimony Wednesday.

Former Pinellas Commissioner Norm Roche
Former Pinellas Commissioner Norm Roche

Roche, a former Pinellas commissioner, is suing Woodard and the county alleging that he was blackballed from working for the county after he lost a bid for re-election.

Roche, who had been employed by the County for a decade before being elected, said he applied for 26 jobs with Pinellas after leaving office. He was finally hired on his 27th try, but before he could report to work, Paul Sacco, an assistant county administrator called him and told him the job offer had been rescinded. Roche calls it an “unhiring” decision.

Roche is suing over the lost job. He’s also claiming that he was wrongfully denied public records. A hearing that was held partly on Monday and was concluded Wednesday centered on the public records issue. Possible liability for the job loss will be litigated later.

On Wednesday, Sacco testified that Roche had been hired. But the decision to rescind the offer came from the top.

Mark Woodard
Mark Woodard

Sacco added, “He wanted me to meet with HR and the county attorney’s office to find the best method” of rescinding the job offer. Later, Sacco said Woodard told him to call Roche to tell him of the decision not to hire him. Sacco said he used a handwritten “script” to read from during that call.

He also conceded that the county failed to turn over two text messages concerning Roche’s job situation. In one case, Sacco said he overlooked it when complying with the public records request.

In the other, he said, the text had to do with a proposed policy to bar former elected officials from working for the county. Sacco said he didn’t think that text applied to Roche’s position. But, earlier he testified that Woodard had asked him to investigate the possibility of creating such a policy.

The text, from him to Woodard, came after Sacco consulted with county attorneys about the idea. The text referred to the two county attorneys he’d consulted and said, “Both advise against putting a policy in place in the middle of the crisis. I have more to share, but too much for a text. I plan to call Norm in about 15 minutes if you want to call beforehand. In a meeting after that from 4-5 and didn’t want to call Norm after that.”

Roche’s attorney, Jawdet Rubaii of Clearwater, argued that the texts were only two pieces of a slew of documents the county refused to turn over.

Rather than obey the Sunshine laws, Rubaii said, “they chose to govern in the darkness.”

Judge Cynthia Newton said she would rule later on the public records question.

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