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New law prods sheriff, PHSC to settle dispute over academy

A rift between the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and Pasco-Hernando State College could be nearing an end.

With the passage of a state House of Representatives bill Friday night, the sheriff’s office and college have until Oct. 1 to reach an agreement regarding the operation of PHSC’s law enforcement academy. Although that does not guarantee the sides will agree, Pasco sheriff’s employees will again be allowed to teach classes at the academy on PHSC’s Dade City campus.

“This legislation will allow us to create a partnership to develop a world-class academy and training center for all of Pasco,” Sheriff Chris Nocco said in a news release.

Last year, relations between the sheriff’s office and college deteriorated to the point that Nocco announced plans to instead work with the Pasco County school district to operate a law enforcement academy at Marchman Technical Education Center in New Port Richey.

At the time, the sheriff’s office cited concerns with equipment, access to facilities and classrooms and the academy’s east Pasco location. The sheriff also claimed that the academy allowed unqualified instructors to teach specialized classes and did not allow “many of our qualified members to instruct at the academy.”

Lucy Miller, executive director of marketing and public relations at PHSC, said that the college won’t comment on specifics of negotiations with the sheriff, but she said that college officials are pleased that talks are “moving forward.”

“I think we’re getting close to an agreement,” Miller said. “Hopefully, it will be very soon. We look forward to a positive outcome.”

The bill that passed Friday was sponsored by House Speaker Will Weatherford, who said in a news release that he was concerned about “significant conflict” between the two entities.

“The inability of both sides to find a compromise has been disappointing,” he said. “Despite much discussion, neither side has been able to overcome differences.”

If no agreement can be reached, “the state will revoke (PHSC’s) certification, with an assurance that existing students will not be harmed,” Weatherford said.

Nocco had also cited concerns over the “ethics” of the academy’s instructors.

In November, two instructors at the academy, James Nagy and Don Ruminer, were fired after an investigation of a sexual harassment claim against Ruminer.

Nagy, who spent 23 years as a member of the sheriff’s office and began working with PHCC in 1991, was fired because he did not cooperate with the investigation, but he was not involved with harassment, college officials said. Ruminer had taught at the academy since 2010.

In March, the college named Charlie May as its new director of public service programs.

May is a retired forensic services chief who worked for the sheriff’s office for 25 years.

“I understand both sides are working on an agreement, and I remain hopeful the issue can be resolved soon,” Weatherford said. “It is my sincere hope and belief they will rise above their differences and create a plan that puts our students and our safety first. Pasco deserves no less.”

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Reporter Ronnie Blair contributed to this report.

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