Someone using the name Reality commented on a news story online last month about St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster's threat to pull out of the Pinellas County EMS system.
"So because you have more thug shootings, drug od's, and prostitutes beatings in your city, you should be paid more ... now there's a community goal for ya," Reality wrote on tampabay.com, the website of the St. Petersburg Times.
Six months earlier, Reality commented on achievement levels in Pinellas schools. "When a white kid and a black kid sit in the same classroom and are given the same information, tasks, and assignments — and the black kid fails — it has nothing whatsoever to do with the teacher, the system, the unions, the funding, or the school. Start with a 70% out of wedlock birth rate.''
And last year, Reality implied that Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch's daughter Keonna was appointed to a community panel for political reasons, and that Commissioner Karen Seel was helping a "developer friend" get county money.
It turns out that Reality also uses another public platform to make his opinion known: his role as a Pinellas County commissioner. Reality is a pseudonym for Norm Roche, who won office last November.
Roche has written as Reality for several years — before and after he was elected — attacking political correctness involving gays and racism and what he considers shoddy reporting by the Times.
Roche defended the comments as his free speech right and a necessity in the Internet era. He said using an assumed name removes the risk that comments are dismissed for partisan reasons.
"A lot of it can be rhetoric and rants. Unfortunately it's part of our communication base now, and you have to be part of it, you have to track it," said Roche, a 49-year-old Republican whose countywide district includes St. Petersburg.
But Welch called Roche's actions "troubling."
"I don't believe they reflect the conduct we expect from county commissioners, especially when you start talking about painting an entire city with words like thugs and prostitutes and blanket terms. I think if you're going to make those kind of statements, you need to put your name behind them," said Welch, a Democrat.
Seel said she would not "lower myself'' to address the assertion that she helped a developer friend.
"Everyone has the right to express themselves, a First Amendment right,'' said Seel, a Republican. "But I think in the position he is in, I am in, we should use our name."
A Times reporter noticed similarities between Roche's public statements and those made by Reality. Both, for example, sometimes end with the phrase, "just say'n."
Also, Reality left a comment announcing a new website, YRTTNRTT.com, which is registered to Roche.
Asked this week if he was Reality, Roche said: "Yeah, yeah I have posted under Reality and Norm Roche. Sometimes in the discussion thread."
The comments are often posted before and after workday hours or on weekends.
A recently registered commenter also uses the acronym YRTTNRTT, which the commenter said stands for You Read The Times, Now Read The Truth.
Records show Roche bought the domain name yrttnrtt.com through GoDaddy.com in July — he estimates it cost him $20 — but it hasn't launched.
Roche is a longtime critic of the Times. He singled out a 2006 editorial criticizing his unsuccessful commission campaign against Calvin Harris. Roche's brother ran as a write-in candidate, restricting the election only to Democrats. The editorial noted Harris was a leading African-American officeholder, and Roche inferred he was being accused of racism.
When his rebuttals on that and other topics were not published as he wanted, Roche said he began looking for alternatives.
Reality announced in a Web comment Oct. 12 that yrttnrtt.com site was "coming soon." That announcement came after the County Commission voted 4-3 to stop adding fluoride to drinking water. Roche — and Reality — supported the decision, and criticized news coverage that scrutinized or criticized his stance and the tea party's role.
After confirming he wrote online comments, Roche tried to backtrack. For instance, a Nov. 2 comment by YRTTNRTT lashed out at County Commission Chairwoman Susan Latvala after she and other commissioners chastised Roche for using a county purchasing card to order a cleanup outside a home near Largo this year.
YRTTNRTT decried "Latvala's God complex, 'I run this town' dog-n-pony show."
"You're assuming it was me, and not YRTTNRTT staff," Roche said, declining to identify any staff. "If and when I launch YRTTNRTT, you'll learn who the staff is.''
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779.