Trevor Tucker was unanimously re-elected chairman of the Flagler County School Board board, with Colleen Conklin re-elected vice-chair. The unanimity of the Tucker vote hides deep divisions on the board that were reflected both in the Conklin vote and the nomination of Tucker.
Tucker and Conklin were sworn in by County Judge Melissa Distler, who seemed the least tense and most ebullient person in the room: the capacity crowd and the numerous cops who’d showed up to control it were here for what would prove to be one of the longest board meetings in memory. It was fueled by one of those controversies that have riven the board, this one created by Board member Jill Woolbright.
Tucker’s re-election was a pre-emptive resolution foretold. Conklin was in line for the title last year. She was passed over for Tucker. Even though traditionally a chair serves two years, as has been the case at least since 2000, the board has just adopted new procedures that require a vote every year. Since Conklin was in line for the chairmanship again this year, it was conceivable that the title could go to her. (Conklin has twice served as chair in her 21 years, from 2006 to 2008 and from 2014 to 2016). She knew she would not get the three votes, or that it would be an unnecessary point of contention. At a recent workshop she tipped her hand and suggested she would be nominating Tucker again. It was the only choice: Conklin and Massaro have openly and repeatedly spoken in board meetings of mistrusting Woolbright or McDonald. Woolbright and McDonald are not fans, either. There was no chance either would bet three votes to be chair.
The school board has not been this divided since the days of Superintendent Robert Corley, who had ripped the board apart by 2004 before it mended when he was faced with the choice of resigning or being fired. This time the animosity is the work of school board members (Woolbright filed a criminal complaint against the superintendent; the complaint is going nowhere, making it all but frivolous, and McDonald has been angling to get rid of the board attorney). The superintendent herself has been agonizingly neutral, except in fierce defense of her staff, which has been shielded from the Woolbright-McDonald machinations so far.
Tucker has been trying to stay above the fray, if at times adopting an “I don’t care either way” neutrality that has emboldened rather than checked the immoderation of Woolbright and McDonald. He has been using the phrase often in recent votes, to mean that he did not have a preference either way even on controversial issues: see the equity vote a few paragraphs above. He had spoken in the same terms about a discussion on library materials, which turned into another bitterly contentious debate Tuesday, with Tucker staying out of it.
But Tucker remained the only consensus choice for chairman. Conklin was prepared to make the motion to nominate him Tuesday evening. No sooner had Mittelstadt completed her sentence, opening the floor to nominations, than McDonald, transparently underhanded, pre-empted Conklin and herself nominated Tucker, thus seeming to have the higher ground. The only reason she could do so is because Conklin had voiced her intention earlier, and McDonald knew she had a losing battle if she’d nominated Woolbright.
Conklin shook her head at her colleague’s guile, which is no longer a mystery to any board member or even a rarity on McDonald’s part: earlier that same day, at the end of the workshop, and with Kristy Gavin, the attorney, having stepped out of the room to conduct an Individualized Educational Plan phone conference, McDonald told her colleagues it was time to evaluate Gavin’s contract at a coming meeting, even though the contract isn’t up for another six months.
Conklin tried to second Tucker’s nomination. The superintendent, tasked with chairing that portion of the meeting, said a second was not necessary.
“Thank you,” Tucker said, tellingly adding, after a pause, “maybe.” The vote for vice chair was more clearly reflective of the rift. McDonald nominated Woolbright. Massaro nominated Conklin. Woolbright and McDonald voted Woolbright. Tucker, Conklin and Massaro voted Conklin. There was a scattering of applause, then Distler administered the two oaths.