Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas County Commission creates charge card policy over Roche's objection

CLEARWATER — County commissioners adopted a policy regulating the use of county credit cards over the angry protests of member Norm Roche, who accused another commissioner of slandering him and challenged the group to convene a grand jury.

The policy, proposed by Chairman John Morroni, who was not at Tuesday's workshop, limits the use of the county purchasing cards to expenses for travel on official business and registration for training seminars.

The policy gives the County Commission the final decision in determining whether a member has abused the card. A majority decision that the card was misused could result in loss of the card. The wrongdoer might also have to reimburse the county.

Giving that power to commissioners was what irked Roche the most. The commission, he said, should not have that power. Roche said he would be more likely to support the creation of a board with citizens who would decide if the card had been abused.

"I won't support and don't even want to sit here in judgment of a colleague," Roche said. "I think we're going down a road that is unnecessary and is overkill. … Our boss is the citizens of the county who stand in judgment over us, not each other."

Questions about commissioners' use of the "P cards" arose last year after Roche used his to pay $250 to hire a company to clear vegetation and debris at an abandoned home near Largo.

At the time, commissioners gave Roche a tongue-lashing over what they said was a violation of the charter and of county purchasing policies.

Commissioner Nancy Bostock said, "I'm a little bit concerned that we're creating a policy to deal with one incident."

Roche said he was glad Bostock brought up the fact that "this was one incident because that's the gorilla in the room … because I spent 250 bucks on clearing a right of way that hadn't been done before."

He maintained he had done nothing wrong and still felt he had done the right thing.

"I didn't violate the charter. I didn't lie or anything," Roche said. "I would really like us to stop inferring that I have violated" any rules.

The commission, he said, spends less time on monitoring the waste of millions of dollars of public money than it has on his use of the purchasing card.

Commission member Susan Latvala disagreed that Roche was blameless and that the incident was minor.

"It is a violation of the charter" for a commissioner to interfere in daily activities of the county or to interfere or otherwise direct staff members to do any work.

Roche interrupted, saying, "I didn't."

When Latvala had finished, Roche said the commission has the power to call a grand jury and should do so.

"I did not violate a law. I did not violate a charter," Roche said. "Convene a grand jury, otherwise quit slandering me."

The commission voted 5-1 to adopt the policy. Roche was the lone dissenting vote.

Reach Anne Lindberg at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.

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