LARGO — On Tuesday, St. Petersburg College said goodbye to longtime trustee Ken Burke at a peculiar Board of Trustees meeting, where no vote was taken because officials weren't sure if three of the trustees were legally trustees.
The board was supposed to consider a full agenda, including a proposed $145 million budget and a 5 percent tuition increase.
But because of a paperwork foul-up, SPC officials weren't sure if Timothy North, Robert Fine and Deveron Gibbons were officially trustees.
North and Fine were appointed to the board in September. Gibbons and Burke were reappointed then, too. Their appointments were supposed to be confirmed by the state Senate, but that didn't happen. Then three weeks ago, Gov. Rick Scott appointed North, Fine and Gibbons, but decided not to reappoint Burke.
College officials thought that ended the saga.
But late last week, North, Fine and Gibbons got letters from the Secretary of State's office congratulating them on their appointments. They were told they would soon be receiving qualifying papers and that those papers must be filed again before they can assume their positions.
College president Bill Law said it was best to be cautious.
"I don't think we should take any votes until we get all of this straightened out," said North, who still hadn't received the paperwork he needs to refile.
Law was confident the matter would be rectified by the time the board meets again in June.
At Tuesday's meeting, Burke, Pinellas County's clerk of courts, was recognized for his nearly 13 years of service on SPC's board.
Some have speculated that Burke's association with Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, got him booted.
Scott's press secretary, Lane Wright, wouldn't comment on the decision. But he said the governor has three chief criteria when making appointments. He's looking for someone who wants the job, is qualified and capable, and shares the governor's vision for improving education and helping grow jobs.
Jones, who had lobbied for Burke's reappointment, was a vocal critic of privatizing South Florida prisons, a plan that Scott supported.
Jones said some people felt that Burke was penalized because Jones supported him. But on Tuesday, Jones said the blame for Burke's ouster may lie elsewhere.
"It was probably the chief of staff's vindictiveness rather than the governor's," said Jones, who also backed Gibbons.
Scott's chief of staff Steve MacNamara resigned Saturday. And now that he's no longer around, Jones said, Scott should review the choice to cut Burke.
"It's a tremendous loss and the governor should certainly reconsider it immediately," he said.
Law said he doubted that Burke's removal was politically motivated. Instead, he thinks Scott felt that Burke had served the board long enough. Several people had called the governor's office on Burke's behalf and were told that 13 years was a sufficient term, Law said.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155.