Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

School board lawyer candidates down to two, prompting new search

TAMPA — Wanted: A school board attorney for the eighth-largest district in the nation.

Hillsborough County has been trying to hire one since Tom Gonzalez announced in January that he will continue to handle litigation for the district, but not advise the elected board.

A committee was formed but only three candidates applied.

Now the list is down to two. After a lengthy televised discussion at the June 11 board meeting, former Pinellas schools attorney James A. Robinson pulled out.

"It would be my desire to enter into an attorney-client-relationship with the board, assuming I were selected, without such controversy over the selection process," Robinson wrote in an e-mail.

At a committee meeting Tuesday, four School Board members concluded they will need to re-open the search. A vote will be taken at a special board meeting June 25.

The June 11 discussion included harsh criticism from board member Susan Valdes, who said she was disappointed the vacancy was listed on Vendor Bid, a bulletin board for contractors who are registered with the district, and not in mass media newspapers. Nor was the job advertised with legal organizations, she said.

Jean Bowman, the district's general manager of procurement, pointed out Tuesday that the job also was posted on DemandStar, which reaches a national audience.

And member Candy Olson noted the publicity that surrounded Gonzalez' decision.

"A person who lives in this part of Florida and did not know that this was coming open may not have the level of awareness of this community that we would want to see," she said.

Nevertheless, no one at the table was happy with only two applicants to consider.

It's a hard job to fill, district officials say, because school board law is a narrow specialty and most qualified attorneys already work for districts.

In addition, it's not a full-time job, as Gonzalez will continue to represent the school district administration.

Gonzalez has been a part of the district's legal team since the 1970s, when he worked for longtime school district attorney Crosby Few.

In 2004, when Few retired, he recommended Gonzalez to take his place, and the board hired him with little discussion.

Gonzalez submitted his resignation in April 2012 amid a controversy over the district's policy on outside speakers, but agreed to remain on board until a replacement could be found.

He re-activated his resignation in January, soon after chairwoman April Griffin went against his advice and moved, unsuccessfully, to hire an independent auditor. Gonzalez said Griffin's action was not why he resigned, as such disagreements happen from time to time in public sector law.

While it's not unusual for a district to have multiple attorneys, those arrangements tend to involve in-house legal staffs. In the Pinellas district, a seven-person staff includes three attorneys.

"No one is set up that way, and that may be why we're struggling to get a qualified attorney to come on board," said board member Cindy Stuart.

Griffin said she hopes the two applicants will re-apply — and Robinson too, although she added that contentious board meetings happen from time to time.

A workshop on the budget will take place before the June 25 board meeting, giving members more than one opportunity to consider their options.

"We board members may have to take a role in picking up the phone and calling some people," Griffin said.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 2266-3356 or [email protected]

School board lawyer candidates down to two, prompting new search 06/18/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 5:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida woman weighing 325 pounds charged with killing girl by sitting on her

    Crime

    PENSACOLA — A 325-pound (150-kilogram) Florida woman is charged with killing her 9-year-old cousin by sitting on the child as punishment.

    This Oct. 14, 2017 photo made available by the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, Fla., shows Veronica Green Posey under arrest. Posey is charged with killing her 9-year-old cousin by sitting on the child as punishment. Posey, who weighs 325 pounds, first punished the girl with a ruler and metal pipe before sitting on her for at least 10 minutes. [Escambia County Sheriff's Office via AP]
  2. Girl, 8, got on 'tippy toes' to peer over cruise ship railing, then fell to her death

    Accidents

    MIAMI — A family cruise to paradise turned into a nightmare on Saturday, when an 8-year-old tumbled over the inner railings of a ship and fell to her death.

    Friends and family mourn Zion Smith, the 8-year-old girl who fell to her death aboard a Carnival cruise in Miami this weekend. [Image from Facebook]
  3. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Looking back at what went wrong

    Bucs

    In his latest Cannon Fodder podcast, Greg Auman says Monday brought good news relating to Jameis Winston's shoulder injury.

    A frustrated Mike Evans sits on the bench during the second half of the Bucs' loss to the Cardinals Sunday in Arizona. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Syrian commander says Raqqa has been captured from militants

    World

    BEIRUT — U.S.-backed Syrian forces liberated the city of Raqqa on Tuesday from Islamic State militants, a senior commander said, in a major defeat for the collapsing extremist group that had proclaimed it to be the capital of its "caliphate."

    This frame grab from video released Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 and provided by Furat FM, a Syrian Kurdish activist-run media group, shows Syrian Islamic State group fighters who surrendered entering a base of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in Raqqa, Syria. A spokesman for the SDF in Syria says it will be in control of the northern city of Raqqa "within a few days" after attacking the last pocket held by the Islamic State group. SDF fighters launched an operation to retake the last IS-held pocket of Raqqa after some 275 militants and their family members surrendered. [Furat FM via AP]
  5. Drug czar nominee Marino withdraws name amid report he weakened DEA

    National

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that his nominee to be the nation's drug czar is withdrawing from consideration for the job.

    U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., left, sponsored the law that weakened the DEA's enforcement abilities. Seen with Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., in 2015, Marino is nominated to be the nation's drug czar. [Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg]