DADE CITY — Pasco County Planning Commission member Michael Cox said last week the county should rethink how it makes appointments to the board where he serves.
Cox, a former county commissioner who also has served on the Florida Commission on Ethics, said the Sept. 3 resignation of Kevin Ryman from the Pasco County Planning Commission should give pause to elected county commissioners.
County commissioners reappointed Ryman and west Pasco Realtor Chuck Grey to two-year terms on the Planning Commission in August without seeking applications from the public.
“It was a little offensive to me that that didn’t happen,’’ Cox said about opening the application process. “What’s the use of having term limits?’’
Ryman, a prominent Zephyrhills builder and roofing contractor, resigned at the request of County Commission Chairman Ron Oakley after the Tampa Bay Times detailed a Sheriff’s Office investigation of a bid-rigging allegation involving Ryman and a $1.5 million school roofing job.
A sheriff’s report said Ryman and former Pasco County School District purchasing director Nicole Westmoreland had a romantic relationship and that probable cause existed to pursue criminal cases against both. Prosecutors, however, declined to file charges.
Ryman, Cox said, “resigned out of shame.’’
That drew a rebuke from Grey, chairman of the Planning Commission, which met in Dade City a day after Ryman’s resignation.
“That was not necessary,’’ Grey said to Cox. “We don’t know what happened there.’’
Ryman, in his letter to Oakley, said he was stepping down “due to unfounded accusations.’’
Ryman was suspected of colluding with another contractor in 2017 to win a $1.5 million job to put a new roof on J.W. Mitchell High School in Trinity, according to public documents. He faces the same allegation in a civil lawsuit from a former business partner. Ryman also provided golf outings and hockey tickets to school district employees after being picked as one of five pre-qualified vendors to bid on school roofing jobs, according to the law enforcement and school district records.
The school district transferred Westmoreland to a different position in December 2018. She resigned without notice in August after the Sheriff’s Office completed its investigation and shared its findings with the school district.
Ryman’s resignation created a vacancy on the seven-member Planning Commission that had been restructured just a year ago. The new board replaced both the former 10-member Planning Commission and the county’s Development Review Committee of top county administrators.
The volunteer Planning Commission makes non-binding recommendations to the elected county commissioners on zoning and land-use issues, but has the authority to issue rulings on requests for variances and so-called special exceptions.
In an attempt to avoid replacing all Planning Commission members simultaneously, the county staggered the terms of its members. Ryman and Grey drew one-year appointments in 2018 and were reappointed to two-year terms last month before the sheriff’s investigative report became public.
David Goldstein, the chief assistant county attorney, said the reappointments of Grey and Ryman came because the end of their one-year terms “snuck up on us,’’ and the county didn’t have sufficient time to advertise for applicants.
“I don’t think there was any evil intent there. It was a logistical issue,’ said Goldstein.
The county said it will advertise for applicants to fill Ryman’s former seat.
Under the former 10-member Planning Commission, each elected county commissioner made two appointments. In the revised system, the board as a whole picked six Planning Commission members with the seventh spot reserved for a Pasco County School District representative.
“They’re trying to take the politics out of it,’’ County Commissioner Mike Wells Jr. said about the appointment process.
Wells told the Times that Cox’ contention deserved to be considered by the full board. He also said the county’s application process might need additional vetting to include disclosure of involvement in civil litigation.
The lawsuit raising the collusion allegation against Ryman was filed in May 2018, before county commissioners appointed and reappointed him to the revised Planning Commission. Ryman had served on the previous version of the Planning Commission since 2009.
“That’s not a bad idea,’’ Wells said of a litigation disclosure. “We don’t like surprises. It’s unfortunate what happened.’’
Cox, meanwhile, offered his own message to the county staff.
“Please, when my term is up, please, post my opening,’’ he said. “... There’s people a lot smarter and more qualified than me to sit here.’’