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Nocco, college divided on academy

Efforts to end a dispute between Pasco-Hernando State College and Sheriff Chris Nocco regarding the college’s law enforcement academy took another step forward this week, but it’s unclear if a resolution is any closer.

The college’s board of trustees approved an interlocal agreement Tuesday evening that sets down proposed responsibilities for the college and the sheriff’s office in the operation of the academy.

The agreement awaits Nocco’s signature and would take effect Aug. 1 if he agrees.

“We are hoping for a positive outcome from the sheriff’s office,” college spokeswoman Lucy Miller said Thursday. “We want to get the agreement resolved and move forward as partners.”

Nocco, though, indicated in a written response to the board dated Thursday that his signature won’t come too quickly. Nocco wrote that he is awaiting information and documents he requested related to an inquiry that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement sought regarding possible training discrepancies at the academy.

“I am also awaiting a meeting with Chairman (Leonard) Johnson to discuss the issues and agreement,” Nocco wrote. “Until we receive the requested documents and have a chance to meet with Chairman Johnson, negotiations regarding the academy agreement cannot move forward.”

The sheriff also wrote that the agreement he was sent appears to be identical to one the sheriff’s office received June 3 that was not sufficient.

“I am unsure why the (college) president would present this information to the board as something new and revised,” Nocco wrote. “This is the exact same version we already stated could not meet the stated objectives.”

Relations between the sheriff’s office and the college began deteriorating last year, and Nocco at one point discussed working with the Pasco County school district to operate a separate law enforcement academy.

The sheriff’s office’s problems with the college’s academy included concerns about equipment, access to facilities and classrooms, and the academy’s east Pasco location.

The sheriff also maintained the academy allowed unqualified instructors to teach specialized classes and did not allow “many of our qualified members to instruct at the academy.”

The rift drew the attention of Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who introduced a bill in the Legislature this year that gave the sheriff’s office and the college until Oct. 1 to reach an agreement on the academy’s operation.

The proposed nine-page agreement approved by the college’s trustees this week includes language previously seen by Nocco that gives the sheriff input into the hiring of the program’s two instructor coordinators, Miller said.

The sheriff would be allowed to review information submitted by all applicants and could advise the college president of any concerns he might have about the applicants.

Miller said no one else outside the college has that kind of say in PHSC’s hiring practices.

“Literally, it is unprecedented to provide someone that much input into our hiring,” she said.

The documents the sheriff requested are related to allegations about training problems at the academy that the FDLE asked the college to investigate.

The college notified the FDLE of the results of its inquiry July 9, saying the claims either were incorrect or involved problems that had been addressed by the college.

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