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School Board talk on travel takes harsh turn

TAMPA — A School Board discussion about travel turned into a battle of wills Tuesday with the chairwoman threatening to have a fellow board member removed from the room.

Board member April Griffin was asking for permission to attend more than one conference this year. Chairwoman Jennifer Faliero stopped Griffin from repeating that request.

"I am going to cut you off," said Faliero. "You are making the same point."

Over Griffin's protests, Faliero banged her gavel, addressing her colleague in a civil but icy tone.

"Ms. Griffin, you are now out of order," Faliero said. "Don't go the next step."

When Griffin continued to speak, Faliero called out to a security officer by the door. "I have warned her twice," she said.

"You are not going to take me out of this room," Griffin replied, as board member Doretha Edgecomb quietly pleaded to Faliero not to do that.

"You are trying to cut me off, and I was not through, Madam Chair," Griffin said, raising her voice ever so slightly.

Faliero gave Griffin one minute to finish, then moved swiftly to deny her request. In a 3-2 vote, Faliero, Edgecomb and Jack Lamb approved travel guidelines that included just one conference for Griffin, who voted no along with Susan Valdes.

A committee of three board members recommended that each official attend just one major conference in a tight budget year. Griffin noted that no one else's travel was questioned, and that she has a contentious history with two of the three committee members.

Griffin is backing Stephen Gorham, who is running against incumbent Carol Kurdell, a committee member.

Faliero is another member of the group. And Griffin was quick to recall a teamwork training exercise last year where Faliero told her to change her style or resign. That day, Griffin stormed out in anger.

Tuesday, she stayed, delivering a rebuke to Faliero near the end.

"How can we expect our employees to not fear retaliation when they're seeing it at this dais?" Griffin asked.

"Ms. Griffin, I appreciate your passion,'' Faliero replied, "but unfortunately you just don't like the word 'no.' "

Faliero later said she never intended to have Griffin removed, but criticized her lack of respect for board rules.

In fact, she had no authority to do so, board attorney Tom Gonzalez said.

Griffin is asking Gonzalez for an opinion about whether other members can restrict her travel. She says the conferences enable her to learn more about balancing college preparation and career education in schools.

She said she carefully researched each and was frugal on the trips. She wants to go to one in North Carolina and two in Florida. Total costs: $3,000.

"Tonight was not petty for me at all. Tonight was me passionately arguing a point that I felt I had every right to argue to do what is best for my constituents," Griffin said later. "Jennifer Faliero … gavelled me down like she does other speakers and tried to tell me how to do my job."

In other business, members praised a group of students taking American government who asked them for a policy change.

The students had missed classes to attend recent Republican and Democratic presidential rallies. They face penalties for being absent, because they were not on school business or a religious holiday. They asked that the rules be altered so they could observe the political process they are studying without penalty.

Members agreed to consider it.

School Board talk on travel takes harsh turn 10/21/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 28, 2008 5:19pm]

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