Sparks fly at Pinellas board workshop
Pinellas County superintendent John Stewart's proposal to reorganize the district's legal office sparked some serious tension during Tuesday's board workshop on the matter.
As Stewart began to unroll his response to a lengthy audit report by Florida Association of District School Superintendents which found the district to be top-heavy, he described his proposal to have associate counsel Laurie Dart report directly to the superintendent.
One of the interesting things about the plan is that the FADSS folks actually found nothing to recommend with regard to the office. They gave a glowing evaluation of the structure and called general counsel Jim Robinson "highly respected in Florida."
Robinson told the board Tuesday that he wasn't consulted about the change.
“I was denied basic answers to basic questions,” Robinson said, “and for the life of me I do not understand why.”
Stewart said he did talk about the change with Robinson “who told me he would not oppose it,” but said that Robinson became “angry” about it over the weekend. Stewart said Robinson sent him several emails over the weekend about it, to which Stewart did not immediately reply.
Last week, Robinson, who has publicly praised Stewart’s leadership in the past, abruptly announced his plans to resign in August, a little more than a year shy of his contract end-date.
On Tuesday, board members seemed clearly unsettled by the public tension between Stewart and Robinson.
"I don't want to get into this stuff," board member Janet Clark said at one point.
Glenton Gilzean at one point inquired about how the board could call an emergency workshop to try to help the two sides work through their issues: "Just seeing that exchange, I'm still kind of nervous, because I'm like, wow, that happened right here."
Board member Linda Lerner said she was concerned that Stewart didn't follow the same process with the legal division that he followed in his proposals to reorganize other administrative offices. She said she wanted to hear more about it at an April 17 workshop.
In the end, the board directed Robinson and Stewart to work it out -- and work it out soon. But board chair Robin Wikle said she wants to be there when they try.