Saturday, May 26, 2018
Education

Hillsborough School Board's attorney says he's leaving post

TAMPA — For the second time in less than a year, Thomas Gonzalez has told the Hillsborough County School Board he no longer wants to be its attorney.

He'll still represent the district, he said. But the board needs to find other representation.

The announcement followed a long meeting Tuesday in which Chairwoman April Griffin moved to hire an auditor who would report directly to the board.

Gonzalez said the law allows the board to hire a financial auditor, not someone to do performance audits. Hearing that the district already undergoes dozens of financial audits each year, the board rejected the idea 4-3.

Griffin called the vote even though Gonzalez told board members it should have been on the agenda first. She also questioned Gonzalez about his opinion on what the auditor could or could not do.

Gonzalez said Wednesday that their discussion did not prompt his decision.

"That's just part and parcel of public sector law," he said.

Gonzalez said he is really following through on a resignation he submitted last April.

At the time, the district was grappling with opposition to classroom visits from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

At a workshop, then-chairwoman Candy Olson tried to put the matter to rest with a written statement clarifying the district's policy on public speakers.

Gonzalez told her the statement amounted to policy, and she could not act on it without going through the public hearing process.

The controversy continued and Gonzalez decided to stop representing the board.

"I just think it's time to start talking about a transition," he said at the time.

For a while, the board explored its options.

"We looked at the cost of in-house counsel, and it was appalling," Olson said.

After conversations with board members and staff, Gonzalez decided to stay — at least until after last year's School Board elections were decided.

With the new board in place, Gonzalez said, "I thought this was an appropriate breaking point."

Griffin said she respects Gonzalez but does not apologize for questioning him about his opinion.

"We are supposed to blindly trust our attorney," she said. "Well, I'm not going to blindly trust anybody.

As he did in April, Gonzalez said he will remain on the job until the board replaces him.

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