County Commissioner Norm Roche has been a lone voice against a proposal to increase the sales tax to fund an expanded mass transit system — whether it was from his commission seat or his position on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
Now, he has lost his appointed seat on the PSTA, a payback, he says, for his opposition.
But incoming Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel, who took Roche off the transit board, said politics had nothing to do with it. The reason, Seel said, was Roche's frequent absences from PSTA meetings and meetings of the agency's Finance and Performance Management Committee.
Seel replaced Roche with John Morroni.
"I think it's important for people to attend meetings," Seel said Tuesday. "That's why I made the changes."
Roche could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But he wrote a letter to other PSTA board members explaining his side of things.
Roche said he first found out that he had been taken off the PSTA board when the agency sent him an email thanking him for his service, explaining his key would no longer work and asking that it be returned at his convenience. That notice, he said, came before the commission meeting at which appointments were to be discussed.
When the issue came up at the County Commission meeting, Roche said he was given several explanations for the change.
"First, the reason given to me was that it was a simple matter of representative rotation," Roche wrote in his letter. "Upon further inquiry, it was then stated that it was simply a matter of board chair-elect prerogative. It now appears that the settled-upon justification seems to be that I had missed a few meetings."
PSTA records show he missed seven of the monthly board meetings since his December 2011 appointment and missed at least three finance committee meetings. Roche said he missed the meetings because he was caring for his brother, Brian, who has a "debilitating form of multiple sclerosis." But Roche said he watched the tapes of the meetings and was aware of the issues.
He explained that his opposition to Greenlight Pinellas, a proposal to impose a 1-cent sales tax to fund an expanded transit system that could include light rail, was practical and not ideological.
"It is important to know that my concerns over this important endeavor is in no way based on some nonexistent third-party ideology, an anti-tax position, nor an anti-rail stance," Roche wrote.
He added, "As I've stated on numerous occasions in various venues, my concerns are with the actual ballot language, ballot language summary, and ordinance language."
Outgoing commission Chairman Ken Welch, who also serves on the PSTA board, said Roche was not singled out because of his views. The commission's practice is for the incoming board chair to appoint members to the various boards and a rotation, or shakeup, is common.
"There's a shift almost every year," Welch said.
This year, as in the past, Seel asked commission members to send her emails telling her which boards they were interested in. Roche, she said, never responded.
Roche was not the only commission member shifted.
Charlie Justice and Welch went to the Value Adjustment Board. And Seel removed herself from the Tampa Bay Partnership board because she had missed several meetings that clashed with TBARTA meetings.
"I treated myself the same," Seel said. "It was the same reason for me. If I can't make the meetings, I (shouldn't be on the board)."
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.