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Norm Roche booted from Pinellas County Commission's anti-discrimination panel

Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman Susan Latvala on Friday booted Commissioner Norm Roche from a panel overseeing discrimination policy after revelations of his disparaging posts under an online alias.

Latvala said Roche's remarks on race, gays and welfare recipients made her appointment of him to the county's Affirmative Action Committee untenable.

The low-profile panel is responsible for ensuring that county agencies do not discriminate. The county human rights office, which also handles complaints in cities, reports to the panel.

"I looked at his appointments and felt his role on it was very inappropriate given his comments," said Latvala. "It looked like an oxymoron."

Latvala told Roche in a one-sentence memo: "Effective immediately, you are relieved of your duties as a County Commission representative on the Affirmative Action Committee."

The St. Petersburg Times reported Wednesday that Roche acknowledged writing comments on the Times' website, tampabay.com, as "Reality.''

Besides barbs at other politicians, Reality wrote that St. Petersburg was unique in Pinellas in its number of "thug shootings" and "prostitutes beatings" and "social service recipients.''

In July 2010, when Roche was a candidate for the office he was sworn into a year ago this week, Reality complained of "race pimps," concluding, "Whitie isn't to blame for your ignorance."

In April, as then-superintendent of Pinellas schools Julie Janssen struggled with student achievement levels, Reality weighed in: "Ok, so you fire Janssen … who will you fire next year when the rersults are the same? And if Janssen was black, would be still be blaming her?"

Roche has defended the postings but could not be reached for comment Friday. He said in an e-mail to the Times that he would respond to questions about commission decisions but not the anonymous Web posts.

He also posted a comment on a tampabay.com story and editorial: "You hate me; I get it … But I have work to do, and have no trouble putting this to rest, so that we can all get on about the business of serving our community to the best of our ability.'' He proposed a moderated discussion on TV and radio between him and Times executives.

Human rights director Leon Russell and Property Appraiser Pam Dubov, a committee member, said they never heard Roche voice anything similar to his anonymous online sentiments.

Dubov said she supported Latvala's decision. "In light of the comments that he made, it doesn't surprise me," Dubov said.

Roche's appointment is for one year and coincides with the term of the commission chairman. Commissioners often serve more than a year, Russell said. Roche ousted Calvin Harris in last year's election.

Vice Chairman John Morroni is expected to replace Latvala as chairman for 2012. He endorsed Latvala's action, "absolutely, 100 percent."

Morroni said he "highly doubted" he would return Roche to the panel, which meets next in January. Roche should not have used an online pseudonym after he was elected, Morroni said.

"You don't want the public to think we think things like that collectively," Morroni said.

Times staff writer Sue Carlton contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Norm Roche booted from Pinellas County Commission's anti-discrimination panel 11/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 18, 2011 11:16pm]
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