Norm Roche continues to demonstrate why he is unfit to hold public office. The Pinellas County commissioner's online attacks of his colleagues, blacks, gays and the city of St. Petersburg while hiding behind a pseudonym fails to meet the ethical standards expected of elected officials. Roche is exercising his free speech rights, but public officials should stand behind their statements and be held accountable by the voters.
Roche acknowledged to St. Petersburg Times reporter David DeCamp that he posts online as Reality after DeCamp noticed similarities between the postings and Roche's public statements. Writing as Reality on tampabay.com, the Times' website, Roche has suggested commissioners Ken Welch and Karen Seel used their offices to benefit relatives or friends. Then there is this offensive attack by Reality on the city of St. Petersburg in a posting about the city's threat to pull out of the countywide 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.''
Roche had every opportunity to offer that view in person to St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council during a daylong meeting with the County Commission nearly three weeks ago. Instead, he hid behind the anonymity of the Internet to spread his inflammatory views and tarnish an entire city. This is not constructive political commentary. If Roche is determined to question the ethics of fellow commissioners and trash the communities he serves, he should put his name on those rants and face the political consequences.
The anonymous online comments are only one way Roche inflames public debate, ignores the facts and refuses to be held accountable. He led the tea party-supported drive to remove fluoride from the county's drinking water, misrepresenting the scientific community's position and making absurd comparisons to prescription drugs. He also violated the county charter and county rules by using his county purchasing card to hire a contractor to clean up debris at an abandoned home. Roche has yet to grasp that a county commissioner is not a sovereign citizen answerable to no one.
The lesson for Pinellas voters is that elections matter. Roche ran unsuccessfully three times for the County Commission as a Democrat, and his reputation for extreme views, overheated rhetoric and peculiar behavior was well-documented. Yet as a Republican he rode the wave of general voter dissatisfaction last year and defeated a longtime incumbent Democrat. Now Pinellas has to suffer the consequences and endure the embarrassment.
By accident or indifference to political sensitivities, Roche occasionally raises a valid point. For example, he legitimately questions why Pinellas has so many fire departments and suggests that some be consolidated. But he undermines his effectiveness and isolates himself with his lack of respect for the office and his anonymous attacks on his colleagues and constituents. If Roche continues his offensive postings online as Reality or under another name other than his own, the reality is that his fellow commissioners, other public officials and the voters have a civic obligation to call him on it and hold him accountable.