In a sudden about-face, the Pasco Sheriff's Office and Pasco-Hernando State College are now on the road to an agreement on jointly running a law enforcement academy.
For the better part of a year, Sheriff Chris Nocco cited numerous reasons why he wanted to sever ties with the college and start a new academy with the Pasco School District.
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, he proposed opening a new academy with the school district at Marchman Technical Education Center in New Port Richey.
On March 11, after another dustup with the college, Nocco issued a memo barring his employees from teaching at PHSC. But by the end of March, correspondence between the two entities shifted. Nocco said local state legislators and Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning encouraged Nocco and PHSC president Katherine Johnson to try again to find common ground.
In recent weeks, the Sheriff's Office and PHSC have drafted their versions of an agreement for operating the academy. There are still issues, the main difference of opinion being who should run the academy.
The Sheriff's Office detailed in a draft agreement sent March 27 that it wanted "exclusive rights to control the operation and administration" of the academy. It requested 24/7 access to the academy for training, and proposed a director hired by the Sheriff's Office to run daily operations and act as a liaison to the college, hire instructors and oversee funding.
In response Thursday, Johnson wrote that she could not grant the Sheriff's Office so much authority over the academy because accreditation standards mandate that the college "controls all aspects of its educational program."
Johnson agreed that the sheriff could have more say in the hiring of instructors. The PHSC version of the agreement states that the college will run its own semester-by-semester training, but the Sheriff's Office can train its own recruits at the academy with its own instructors. The college also proposed to have its own director - Charlie May, who was appointed two weeks ago - oversee the academy and coordinate with the Sheriff's Office when it can have classes there.
The college would use its own money to maintain the academy's buildings, the agreement states. The college also wants no lead ammunition used on the gun range.
Nocco responded Friday, saying that agreements similar to the one he outlined have been used in the past between the college and former Sheriff Lee Cannon. Nocco said Polk State College and the Polk County Sheriff's Office have an agreement that allows the Sheriff's Office control of the academy.
The rest of Nocco's letter reiterates his points from his initial agreement but also calls for PHSC to reinvest cadets' tuition back into the academy. He writes that doing so would improve, rather than maintain, buildings like the shooting range, which has been a point of contention in the past. He also asks to use real ammunition on the range, stating that "realistic training is critical."
The college declined to field any media inquiries about the recent correspondence with the Sheriff's Office, but spokeswoman Lucy Miller wrote, "We feel that the current communication between PHSC and the PSO is positive for all concerned."
Nocco echoed that sentiment.
"We have made a good-faith offer to partner with PHSC," he wrote in a message to the Times. "The model we have proposed works extremely well in Polk County between the State College and Sheriff's Office. We hope that PHSC joins us in this same model of partnership."
Alex Orlando can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.