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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Twitter fireworks over a school district spokesman's firing

6

January

T.G. Taylor, the former community relations chief of the Hillsborough County School District, took to Twitter on Thursday to blame School Board member Susan Valdes for his abrupt firing in November.

"Make this go away. That's what this board member told me," Taylor tweeted, referring to a television news story about Valdes' travel expenses. "When I refused to break the law, I was fired."

The response Friday from Superintendent Jeff Eakins:

"It is extremely disappointing that these allegations are being made. At no time in his tenure did anyone on my staff ask him to do something illegal or break the law. It is standard that the communications office works with staff and School Board members to oversee the flow of communications to ensure open and credible news media relations."

Jason Pepe, interim communications manager for the district, weighed in with his own Twitter message to Taylor: "I served in this position before you and now interim after you. I was NEVER asked to do anything illegal or unethical."

Taylor agreed that Eakins and his staff never directed him to break any law. But he felt that Valdes, by inferrence, did. "She said it twice. 'Make it go away.' It was a public records request," he said.

Valdes could not be reached for comment.

Taylor's tweets came in response to recent reports in the Tampa Bay Times and on television that Valdes, now beginning her fourth term in office, is being investigated by the state Commission on Ethics. That probe comes in response to a complaint from adult education teacher Laurie Rodriguez, who says Valdes used her influence to secure free day care for her grandchild at Leto Little School. The fee-based preschool is operated by the career education department at Leto High School, Valdes' alma mater.

Valdes, through her attorney, said Rodriguez' complaint has no merit, and the state agency is following legal procedure by investigating. She also called the complaint politically motivated, as Rodriguez is married to Bill Person, who lost to Valdes in the 2016 election. Person is now running for another School Board seat.

While the state investigates, the Times is awaiting information from the district about Leto Little in order to clarify payment options available to day care parents.

Taylor, 43, joined the district on May 16 after a long career in the military and a shorter stint at a law firm. He was given a cabinet-level position and a salary of $134,000 a year.

He struggled early on. A letter in his personnel file shows that in July, Chief of Staff Alberto Vazquez counseled Taylor concerning patience, interpersonal skills and adherance to the district's organizational structure. Taylor was advised to make sure "that you spend your time effectively and your work aligns to the daily work of your division and your job description." He was also advised conduct himself professionally with employees and colleagues.

Taylor said the letter reflects occasions in which he clashed with Vazquez, sometimes by doing things that made it appear he was usurping his boss's authority. He said he took the steps necessary steps to improve the relationship.

In October, as the district battled morale issues stemming from spending cutbacks, Taylor embarked on a communications campaign that was to include a series of video interviews with Eakins.

But on Nov. 1, after only one video had been made and as a crowd was gathering for the 3 p.m. School Board meeting, Taylor was fired. At the time, he placed the blame squarely on Valdes and her allies on the board. He said he gave them advice that they did not follow, then board members pressured Eakins to fire him.

Eakins said that day that the decision was his, based on the need for a new direction in communications, a top priority for his administration. "The district values your dedication and hard work," Chief of Staff Alberto Vazquez wrote in Taylor's dismissal letter. "However, your services are no longer required in our District."

Taylor said Friday that he stands by what he said on Nov. 1. "I went there to assist with communication as a service to the district," he said. "I did the best I could, but was asked to do things I was not able to do." 

Later he added, "I'm relieved and happy not to be associated with the district any more."

[Last modified: Friday, January 6, 2017 7:41pm]

    

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