Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas commissioners scold colleague Norm Roche over county card use

LARGO — Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche's decision to personally order a yard cleared of debris at public expense landed him in the political woodshed Tuesday.

Most of his commission colleagues delivered a tongue-lashing to the first-year commissioner, using terms like "embarrassing" and "disturbing" over his violating the Pinellas charter and county purchasing policies.

Roche used a county purchasing card to hire a company for $250 on Sept. 26 to clean vegetation and debris at an abandoned home near Largo. After years of complaints from neighbors, Roche ignored suggestions by county attorneys and staff to let a code enforcement case play out.

Lacking power to make Roche repay the money, commissioners decided to bar themselves from using the cards for operational costs.

"It would be crazy," Commissioner John Morroni said of using the cards for work when someone complains. "We'd want to do something for everybody, and it'd be millions of dollars."

Roche defended his actions but claimed ignorance of how to raise concerns at a public meeting — though it's a common practice by commissioners, some of whom seemed surprised at the suggestion.

"It wasn't even part of my thought process, which could be my error," said Roche, a former county employee elected last year on his fourth try. "I was going through the course I assumed. I didn't know there would be another step of coming to the board about a particular house."

The Pinellas charter for decades has barred commissioners from being involved in the administration's actions. The purchasing code prohibits cardholders from using them to buy services Pinellas already contracts for, including mowing and debris clearing.

Roche disclosed his actions Oct. 20 but didn't mention the card. Morroni and Commissioners Susan Lat­vala and Karen Seel said they inferred from what he said that Roche personally covered the bill.

"And that was a lie," said Seel, describing Roche's decisions as "disturbing."

"Any other employee would be terminated," Seel added, calling Roche's actions "willful misuse."

Like other cardholders, Roche signed an agreement to follow county policies. An employee who violated the agreement can be fired.

A records request by the St. Petersburg Times turned up the purchase, along with $2,605 for a desk, meeting table and chairs from a consignment shop for his office.

County officials said furniture was available, but Roche insisted that nothing panned out and that County Administrator Bob LaSala offered to buy some. LaSala told the Times he did not recall that.

None of the other six commissioners defended Roche. Neither did LaSala or County Attorney Jim Bennett. County staff compiled handouts reinforcing proper procedures.

That left Roche defending himself from criticism mainly from fellow Republicans.

Roche said he didn't lie because he never specifically stated he personally paid for it. In fact, he did refer vaguely to the cost as "tax exempt" last month, the only clue that he tapped the county's purchasing power.

He also denied violating the charter because he "did not direct staff." And he suggested he was being targeted.

"Staff time, money and resources is being spent to just show I did something wrong, that's how I feel," Roche said, later saying the board had no authority to judge him.

He added: "I'm not embarrassed for acting and believing I did what was right to do."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Pinellas commissioners scold colleague Norm Roche over county card use 11/01/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 2, 2011 12:05am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Two Boca Ciega students arrested on charges they brought gun to high school football game

    Crime

    PINELLAS PARK — Two Boca Ciega High School students were arrested for having a loaded semi-automatic handgun with them at a Friday night football game at Pinellas Park High School.

    Two Boca Ciega High School students were arrested for bringing a weapon on school property on Friday night at a high school football game at Pinellas Park High School.
  2. Bucs-Jaguars was NFL's lowest-rated ESPN game since 2005

    Bucs

    It is just the preseason, and it is the Jaguars, but Thursday night's Bucs-Jags preseason game earned a 1.6 rating on ESPN, which is the lowest-rated preseason game (excluding NFL Network) in 12 years, according to Sports Media Watch.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, left, talks with coach Dirk Koetter during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
  3. Crash at U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park kills one, shuts down traffic

    Accidents

    PINELLAS PARK — A man is dead after a crash between two cars at the intersection of U.S. Highway 19 and 70th Avenue N just after 7 a.m. Saturday.

    Pinellas Park police are investigating the death of a man during a crash on U.S. 19 early Saturday. (Pinellas Park police)
  4. Tropics watch: The latest on Harvey and what systems could hit Florida

    Weather

    While Eastern and Central America monitor the progress of Tropical Storm Harvey, two tropical disturbances are moving through the Atlantic.

  5. Roberto Aguayo, Jonathan Drouin, Tim Beckham are coming for revenge

    Bucs

    Forget the Three Tenors.

    Make it the Three Terrors.

    The 2017 Unfulfilled Expectations Tour is about to hit Tampa Bay.

    From left, former Bucs kicker Roberto Aguayo, ex-Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin and former Rays infielder Tim Beckham. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times; DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times; Getty Images]