UPDATED: Spending hawk Roche faces first test: hiring his brother
Newly elected Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche, who campaigned against "the spend it or lose it mentality" in county spending, is facing a first test of how far that stance will go.
Roche wants to have an executive aide as members of the seven-person commission do now. Roche's choice is his trusted advisor: his brother Brian, he said Monday night . But the commission decided this summer to not fill vacancies as board staff leaves. Florida's anti-nepotism law might also bar Roche hiring his brother.
UPDATE: Roche said Tuesday he would not hire his brother because of the anti-nepotism law. While he indicated Monday that Brian Roche would be choice, and they both explained how crucial his brother's advice had become during the campaign, the new commissioner said Tuesday he wasn't being clear.
"I mixed playing around with you with reality. That’s my bad," Roche said.
"A commission or a commissioner would be prohibited from hiring a relative into a position or appoint a relative to a board, even if the relative would abstain from the vote," said Kerrie Stillman, spokeswoman for the Florida Commission on Ethics, though she noted she couldn't specifically address Roche's plan.
County Attorney Jim Bennett said he met with Norm Roche on Tuesday morning, but the hiring choice didn't come up. Bennett declined comment until he could speak with the new commissioner. Roche didn't immediately return a request for comment.
But Roche said he intends to hire someone to be an aide, though he hasn't picked out anyone yet.
"I have considerable expectations to go in there and do a lot of work, and I'm going to need those eyes," Roche said late Monday following the monthly Republican Party meeting. "Trust me, I'm going to go to work on the 16th," he said, referring to his swearing in at 9 a.m. that day.
Kimberly Williams, the aide for the man he's replacing, Commissioner Calvin Harris, is leaving with Harris' departure by the 15th -- they're already clearing out of his corner office as the senior-most member for Chairwoman Karen Seel to take it over. This summer, the commission decided in a workshop that any aide that leaves won't be replaced. It came as they resisted cutting their aides pay or putting the aides at risk for the same layoffs other county employees faced.
From the minutes of the June 15 meeting:
"In conclusion, Commissioner Seel related that the revisions agreed upon today would result in a Fiscal Year 2011 budget reduction of approximately $46,000. Responding to query by Commissioner (Neil) Brickfield, she confirmed that the Board will have a policy providing that any Assistant who leaves will not be replaced; and indicated that upon notification by an Assistant of their intent to leave, the Board will hold a meeting to determine a model for allocation of the workload."
Norm Roche, who acknowledged he needs to hear the rationale behind the commission's decision, nonetheless said he needs an aide as a new commissioner who needs to get up to speed on the details of county plans. He said sharing an aide with another commissioner could raise problems with Florida's Sunshine Law, which prohibits using a staffer to carry communications between commissioners.
While cutting costs is important, Roche said the reductions have to be practical. Not filling Williams' job would save almost $62,000 in salary and $2
2,000 in benefits, according to county personnel records.
The board will meet for a lunch work session Nov. 16 to consider Roche hiring an aide.