Bad legal advice fueled controversy at Pinellas County Personnel Board

Pinellas County Attorney Jewel White said board member Paul Roger didn’t need to resign.
The Pinellas County Courthouse is seen in this undated Google Earth image.
The Pinellas County Courthouse is seen in this undated Google Earth image. [ Google Earth ]
Published March 13, 2020

A member of the Pinellas County Personnel Board resigned after a senior county attorney said Paul Rogers improperly voted to appoint his relative as the interim director of the county’s Human Resources Department.

Now, Pinellas County Attorney Jewel White said Rogers did not have to resign because there was no conflict for him to appoint his step son-in-law Jack Loring to the position.

“The legal advice rendered by this office was incorrect,” White said Friday afternoon in a memo to county leaders. “Jack Loring is the step son-in-law of ... Rogers and therefore, there is no conflict due to nepotism.”

White also said she assigned Chief Assistant County Attorney Don Crowell to replace Carl Brody, a senior assistant county attorney, as the board’s legal representative.

Last week, Brody referred to Loring as Roger’s “son-in-law" when he told Rogers he would have to resign if Loring remained as the interim leader. When asked about the ties, Rogers later told the Tampa Bay Times that Loring was his step son-in-law.

Related: Pinellas board member appointed son-in-law to top HR job, didn’t disclose conflict

Hours before White sent the memo, Brody emailed Rogers to say, “after looking at the article in the paper last week and your resignation letter, in both instances you reference that Jack Loring is your step son-in-law.”

Brody then said the relationship, once confirmed, did not pose a conflict and that Rogers could “rescind his resignation and continue to serve on the board.”

Rogers said he holds no grudge toward Brody and would consider joining the board again “down the road."

“The issue was a clear misunderstanding that needed more research,” Rogers said.

The Personnel Board needed a new leader after Holly Schoenherr resigned under fire because of poor performance evaluations. She was placed on administrative leave until the chair of the Personnel Board can negotiate a severance package. The board will vote on it in April.

Related: Pinellas County HR Director Holly Schoenherr resigns before board could decide her fate