Pinellas County School Board members have been talking about hiring a performance auditor for years now.
According to the request for proposals they hammered out, board members want a certified public accountant who is able to take an objective look at the district's finances and make sure it is using its resources in the best way possible.
During their Dec. 13 workshop, they finally got a hold of the applications. According to the district staff, there were two.
But apparently the only people who can see those bids are the School Board members themselves.
School Board attorney Jim Robinson stopped district staffers from bringing the bid packets into the workshop, saying a new law makes such bid proposals exempt from public record laws.
Robinson cited Florida Statute 119.071, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year. "The Public Records Act was amended this past year to make sealed bids, proposals or replies received by an agency exempt from public records requests until such time as the agency provides notice of an intended decision or until 30 days after opening the bids, proposals, or final replies, whichever is earlier," Robinson wrote in an email he sent board members during the meeting.
The district's staff is the party typically charged with assessing the bids then recommending a winner to the board for a vote. In this case, however, board members themselves will be doing the bid scoring and the hiring, making such public records issues particularly awkward.
Robinson suggested that the board members bring the proposals home and read them over during the holidays. Board members mulled over the possibility of discussing the merits of each proposal in a way that would exclude any details that could compromise the point of the law.
But for now it's unclear how that might play out. Robinson did tell board members that they have the right to waive the exemption.
Asked after the workshop discussion about what the next board meeting on the bid proposals might look like, Robinson sent an email to the Times saying that the exemption "does not permit the Board to meet outside the Sunshine to make any decision concerning the bids, whether to accept one or reject all."
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.