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Tentative choices emerge for panel

Intentionally choosing people from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives, the School Board on Tuesday selected a tentative list of 10 candidates to serve on the Blue Ribbon Committee on Homosassa Elementary School.

The board is scheduled to finalize the choices next Tuesday at a special meeting after contacting each of the prospective members, making sure they still want to serve and checking whether any might have a conflict of interest.

Board members are especially interested in hearing an answer to the conflict question from one prospective member: lawyer Karen Gaffney. She has served as attorney for the Hernando County School Board and was chosen to be on the panel by School Board member Lou Miele.

Gaffney previously served as corporate attorney for Berryman and Henigar, the firm the school district hired to do inspections of the Homosassa Elementary construction project. That same project was later found to be riddled with construction flaws, and the inspector from Berryman and Henigar _ Harold Varvel _ has said he was never called to conduct critical construction inspections.

Miele defended his pick, saying Gaffney's extensive background in school law was needed on the committee. Citrus board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick said that if the board wants the committee to scrutinize the jobs done by all the professionals hired by the district to make the Homosassa project safe, Gaffney might feel she has a conflict.

"You don't want the general public questioning conflicts," Fitzpatrick warned the board Tuesday. "You'd have to come to the committee with an open mind and an open slate."

Miele said he would talk to Gaffney about the issue.

Each board member made their own pick to begin forming the committee. Board Chairwoman Ginger Bryant chose Priscilla Watkins, a member of the Homosassa Civic Club who has a background as a legislative analyst and government worker.

Phyllis Dixon, a nuclear engineer with experience in investigations and audits and the wife of Citrus County's director of community development Chuck Dixon, was board member Patience Nave's choice.

Pat Deutschman picked Kenneth Blocker, an Inverness resident. Blocker is chairman of the Pleasant Grove Elementary School Advisory/Enhancement Council and is regional finance director for a substance abuse prevention and treatment program.

Board member Sandra "Sam" Himmel chose Wayne Jordan, a former county commissioner with a background in finance and experience as an instructor at Central Florida Community College.

After picking those members, the School Board divided the remaining 24 applicants into categories. There were several people with backgrounds as investigators, engineers, those with construction experience and those with educational backgrounds. From the remaining pool, they picked the following five applicants:

+ Jack Campellone, a former project engineer at the Crystal River nuclear plant who has a child set to attend Homosassa Elementary.

+ Michael Eid, a Beverly Hills resident who is a retired investigator and auditor for the auditing arm of Congress.

+ Robert Kegel, an engineer licensed in four states who has designed and built numerous classrooms and is a former school board member elsewhere. He lives in Beverly Hills.

+ Donald MacDonald, a Homosassa resident who was a professional mediator, a former school board member elsewhere and a nationally certified engineer who has worked as a volunteer at Homosassa Elementary.

+ Allen McLaughlin of Hernando, a state-licensed inspector on construction jobs undertaken by various state agencies.

The board members also discussed how to define the job of the Blue Ribbon Committee.

Miele wanted to be sure there was less focus on what happened to the botched project and more emphasis on keeping it from happening again, but Nave said she wanted to know what happened.

Deutschman, who first suggested the panel, said she thought the job was to give an outside independent look at what went wrong at Homosassa. "The purpose of forming this committee is to bring credibility to this issue" with the community, Deutschman said.

"We don't want people coming on the board thinking this is a witch hunt," Himmel said.

Miele agreed, saying he didn't want the information the panel brings forward to be all negative.

"Constructive criticism is positive," Nave countered. "We must find out what went wrong" to make sure the mistakes are not repeated.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendtsptimes.com. Collins Conner can be reached at 564-3623 or connersptimes.com.

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