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Hickey threatens to sue Lee County for age bias

When Norman Hickey came to St. Petersburg a year ago, he was thrust into the middle of a controversy.

Now, two days after he bid the city farewell, the 65-year-old Hickey again may find himself in the midst of a dispute _ this time in Lee County, where he has been one of four candidates to become county administrator.

Friday, Hickey's attorney sent a letter to the Lee County attorney, threatening to sue the county for age discrimination if Hickey's age entered into the selection process.

Lee County commissioners interviewed Hickey and the other finalists most of Saturday, but Hickey is not likely to get the job when commissioners meet again later this week.

"There pretty much was a consensus that Norman Hickey was not the fit for the county we were looking for," Commissioner John Albion said. Age had nothing to do with it, he said.

"He seems like he's very result-oriented, but his answers were not smack on the mark," Albion said. "He was pretty good with generalities, but these other guys were very specific about handling our concerns in this county."

In a letter to commissioners, Hickey's attorney, Edward D. Foreman, wrote that he had learned that Hickey might not get the job because he was too old. "As I am sure you are aware, the Board of County Commissioners is absolutely prohibited under applicable state and federal law from discriminating against Mr. Hickey upon the basis of his age," Foreman wrote.

Hickey came to St. Petersburg as the city sought to calm tensions over the firing of former police chief Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger. His job as St. Petersburg city manager was eliminated when voters adopted a strong-mayor form of government. Hickey could not be reached for comment Saturday.

A story in the Fort Myers News-Press said Saturday that the letter was in response to comments from Commissioner Frank Mann, who said he wanted an administrator who could remain with the county 15 to 20 years. Mann questioned whether Hickey would be willing to work until he was 80.

"I would have said the same thing about someone who is 35 years old. I need that commitment. This county needs that commitment," Mann told the News-Press.

Foreman said: "Under the circumstances, including Mr. Hickey's qualifications, I believe that any failure to select him . . . could only be based upon his age. It is my position that this would constitute blatant unlawful discrimination against him."

Albion said the attorney's letter will not be a factor in his choice of administrator.

"His age did not discount him as far as I'm concerned. It didn't matter," Albion said Saturday. "It seemed like, of the four candidates, he was not going to be the most suitable."

An editorial in Saturday's News-Press called Hickey the best choice for Lee County.