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Evaluations considered for attorney

The Hernando County School Board agreed to consider setting up an evaluation process for its attorney after a former board member raised concerns Tuesday night.

Former board member Diane Rowden asked the board to establish some sort of evaluation process and a hiring system as a way to ensure that the district is getting the best attorney for its money.

"I'm not saying (School Board attorney) Karen Gaffney is not a good attorney, but is she the best attorney?" Rowden said Wednesday. "This is not a personal attack on her. I'm just doing it because I'm truly concerned."

Rowden said she didn't bring up the subject earlier "because I thought the perception would be that I was trying to grandstand because I was running for (a County Commission seat)," she said.

Board Chairwoman Nancy Gordon told Rowden on Tuesday that the board had no problem with devising an evaluation system, though no formal action was taken. Gaffney said she would fully cooperate with the board on her appraisal.

Gaffney, who was hired in 1993, did not return phone calls for comment on Rowden's presentation.

Rowden also complained that the board rehired Gaffney in November without discussion, and that the Inverness lawyer's fees during an 11-month period exceeded the superintendent's salary of $80,000.

From August 1993 to May 1994, Gaffney, who is paid $125 an hour, earned $84,748.76, according to school records. Since July, Gaffney has collected $33,622.

But that's no more than her predecessor, Joe Johnston, who retired as the board's attorney in September 1992 after four decades of service. During the 1991-92 school year, Johnston billed the district for $87,354.22, records show.

And the Orlando firm of Maguire, Voorhis & Wells, which represents the district in construction litigation, earned $252,884.46 during the 1993-94 school year. The district is hoping to recoup much of that money from contractors that built Moton and Deltona elementary schools.

"By looking at these amounts, they need to go back to the drawing board and consider hiring an in-house attorney," said Rowden, who left office in February 1993 after she was convicted on Sunshine Law violations.

Tim Bargeron, the district's top financial officer, said school officials have considered a full-time attorney but haven't made any decisions.

"We've discussed it some, but we haven't really pursued it actively. But that is also something that the (teacher and non-instructional) unions have been raising questions about," he said Wednesday afternoon.

Bargeron said there are pros and cons to having a full-time attorney on board.

The positive aspects include having someone on call eight hours a day, five days a week, without worrying about billing costs. The down side is offering a competitive salary with good benefits, hiring office help and setting up an office, possibly with a law library.

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