Friday, June 22, 2018
Public safety

Legislature issues ultimatum on Pasco sheriff, PHSC police academy

NEW PORT RICHEY — The Florida Legislature, at the behest of House Speaker Will Weatherford, is putting an end to the ongoing saga between the Pasco Sheriff's Office and Pasco-Hernando State College on how to run a joint police academy.

Language included in the state budget, passed Friday, states that if the entities can't reach an agreement by Oct. 1, the academy will lose its accreditation. The language is tied to education funding, making it difficult for Gov. Rick Scott to veto.

In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, Weatherford blasted both the Sheriff's Office and the college for their stubbornness.

"The inability of both sides to find a compromise has been disappointing," he wrote. "Despite much discussion, neither side has been able to overcome differences."

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco and PHSC president Katherine Johnson have been in a stalemate since last summer.

Nocco has accused the college of not meeting ethical standards, using favoritism in hiring and employing disgruntled former Sheriff's Office employees who pass on bad morale to prospective recruits. The sheriff's attorney also said the academy's equipment is sparse and training facilities are dilapidated. In January, Nocco proposed opening a new academy with the school district at Marchman Technical Education Center in New Port Richey and in March he issued a memo barring his employees from teaching at PHSC. The school district has yet to apply to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to run an academy.

The Sheriff's Office and college later in March began negotiations on jointly running a law enforcement academy after some prodding from Weatherford, schools superintendent Kurt Browning and others. However, the dialogue quickly distilled to one sticking point neither seems willing to concede: Who will appoint and oversee the academy's director?

"I do not take this action lightly," Weatherford wrote. "For the past eight years, I have fought vigorously to improve the quality and fiscal health of our Sherriff's Office and our state college."

In a news release Friday, Nocco thanked Weatherford for working for legislation "that will allow us to create a partnership to develop a world class academy and training center for all of Pasco."

Nocco said "as a show of good faith," he will allow his staff to again teach at the college's law enforcement academy.

The college did not return a request for comment Monday.

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