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Pinellas County attorney accused of unjustly firing a top African American staff member

The move was criticized by the NAACP and the chairman of the Personnel Board. Jewel White said she fired the staff attorney over performance issues.
Pinellas County attorney Jewel White denied there were racial considerations in her decision to dismiss staff attorney Carl Brody, a 23-year employee of the office. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2018)]

Divisions widened at the Pinellas County Personnel Board after board chairman Ricardo Davis accused County Attorney Jewel White of unjustly terminating a top-ranking African American attorney who had provided legal guidance to the panel.

On Friday, Davis said White abruptly terminated Carl Brody, a 23-year employee and senior county attorney. In a letter sent Saturday to community leaders, Davis said the termination is “one of several examples of the back-room, conspiratorial” dealings that have engulfed the Personnel Board. He called a special public meeting for Thursday to provide information to county officials about the turmoil.

Brody’s firing “should not be allowed to stand," Davis wrote. “I am asking all those who believe in the truth to appear at this meeting in support of my attempt ... to object to this racist action against Mr. Brody and his family.”

Maria Scruggs, president of the NAACP St. Petersburg Branch, is now calling on advocates to protest Brody’s dismissal.

A meeting of the Personnel Board scheduled for Thursday was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, White said Brody’s departure was “in no way a racially motivated separation.” White said she acted on legal advice and personally handled the separation.

“He separated for a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason,” White said.

Brody declined to comment but said he would accept reinstatement.

Last week, White told officials that her office gave incorrect legal advice to a member of the Personnel Board and that she assigned Chief Assistant County Attorney Don Crowell to replace Brody as the board’s legal representative.

The move came after the resignation of Personnel Board member Paul Rogers. Brody told Rogers he acted improperly when he voted to appoint a relative, Jack Loring, as interim director of the county’s Human Resources Department.

In a Times’ report about the vote, Rogers called Loring his stepson-in-law. After Brody read the article, he said the relationship did not pose a conflict and that Rogers could “rescind his resignation and continue to serve on the board.”

Rogers did so on Tuesday.

Related: Bad legal advice fueled controversy at Pinellas County Personnel Board

The Personnel Board’s leader 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 the package in April.

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

Last week, Pinellas County administrator Barry Burton criticized Davis over the way he picked Loring and because he didn’t seek advice from the public officials who receive services from the Human Resources Department.

“To blatantly ignore input from the appointing authorities is disrespectful and does not serve our County well," Burton wrote.

Still, Davis said, the issues run much deeper than Brody. He said Barry Burton and Mark Woodard, the former county administrator, created a backroom political “conspiracy” to undermine Schoenherr and get her out at any cost.

Davis said he has known about the efforts for some time, adding: “I have, at times, interceded in an attempt to reconcile the parties. Under extraordinary pressure, Schoenherr submitted her resignation.”

Davis said he will inform the Pinellas County Commission about the troubles at a meeting scheduled April 7.