Saturday, September 22, 2018

Ethics complaint against Hillsborough School Board members

NOTE: This post has been revised.

A disability rights advocate in Tampa has filed a state ethics complaint against Hillsborough County School Board member Lynn Gray, based on reports that appeared in recent months in the La Gaceta newspaper.

Karen Clay has asked the state agency to investigate Gray based on La Gaceta's suggestions that the board member violated sunshine law and blurred the lines between her position on the School Board and her personal business interests.

Clay provided the Times on Friday with the June 6 complaint, which also names board member Melissa Snively, along with the attachments. 

In her letter, Clay said she became interested because of series of Facebook messages that La Gaceta had published, after receiving them from another source. In one of those exchanges, a conversation with Snively, Gray made light of a statement someone had made about special needs children who died while under school district care, calling the statement "generalizing nonsense."

The presumption was that the two members were discussing Michael Weston, a teacher who lost his job in 2013 under a process for new teachers known as "non-renomination." Weston tried unsuccessfully to get a hearing on his case before the full School Board. More recently, member April Griffin tried to re-open Weston's case with a retro-active change in district policy. That fact made Weston the subject of board votes, and off limits for their conversations outside the sunshine.

The allegation about co-mingling of Gray's interests stems from another La Gaceta report about an email Gray wrote to a Carrollwood neighborhood leader about a proposed charter school that she opposed. In it, she described herself as a School Board member and the proprietor of "Take… The First Step," a business that coaches long-distance runners.

"We looked at the complaint and it has no merit," Gray said Friday, calling from a trip out of state.

Gray said she believes the Facebook comments that appeared in La Gaceta were patched together and reported out of context. "It's a strange thing, the whole thread to me is weird," she said, adding that the controversy surrounding Weston happened well before her time on the board.

As for her communication about the charter school, Gray said she was new on the board at the time and not as careful as she should have been with her emails. "That's not a really good excuse," she acknowledged. "But when we get into office, we don't know all the right and wrong things to do. I do know that I was happy to help the townspeople to not have another school. I had good intentions."

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