Last week’s 3-2 vote by the Flagler County School Board to demolish its hulking property at 1 Corporate Drive—the old ITT headquarters—has triggered serious behind-the-scenes objections from a school board member over the impropriety of the vote. And the legal qualifications of the contractor hired to do the job appear to have been incomplete at the time of the vote, though none of the board members or the administration knew it at the time.
The school board is taking measures to rectify both matters. Neither will hamper the expected timeline of the demolition, Kristy Gavin, the school board attorney, said. But the propriety of the vote remains in question, with board member Janet McDonald saying she’d contacted the attorney general’s office on Feb. 18 over the issue.
At the Feb. 16 meeting, board members had been discussing the demolition contract for about 15 minutes when board member Sue Dickinson “called the question,” ostensibly to end debate. Clearly, board members were not done speaking about the issue. Colleen Conklin, who chairs the board, even said so out loud, saying she had further questions. But Dickinson pressed the matter, saying she had “called the question,” and that therefore a vote had to be taken immediately.
Dickinson was wrong: under the rules the board follows—albeit loosely—a board member may “call the question,” but for debate to end the board member must not only get a second, Gavin said, but that “subsidiary motion” to end debate must also get a two-thirds vote to carry, which on the Flagler school board amounts to a supermajority of at least four votes. The bar is very high on “calling the question,” because parliamentary rules protect against any single board member having what amounts to a veto power over all other board members’ right to speak.
Based on the tenor of the debate last Tuesday, Dickinson would likely not have gotten a second, let alone a 4-vote majority to end debate, Conklin would have gotten to ask her questions, and further debate may have been prompted. Even board member Andy Dance, who voted with the majority, objected at the end of the meeting to the way Dickinson had “called the question,” saying that the Flagler board had customarily handled debate collegially until all board members were satisfied with answers to their inquiries.
But Conklin herself, as the chairman, went along with the maneuver, essentially endorsing it (and later regretting it), even though she was opposed to it, because, she said, it had happened numerous times in the past, and the board had gone along with it even then.
At least two board members want to ensure that debate is never again improperly aborted.
“When the call of the question occurred,” Gavin said, “I was not asked to advise the board on the matter. Ms. Dickinson called the question. Ms. Conklin said she had one more question she wanted to ask and Ms. Dickinson said she had called the question. Following Ms. Dickinson’s statement Ms. Conklin (who is the Board chair) moved directly into the vote and a vote was taken.” That accurately represents how the matter was handled at the time.
At the end of the meeting, Conklin asked Gavin whether there had been a second to Dickinson’s motion. But Gavin interpreted the response to Dickinson’s calling the question as “unanimous consent,” meaning that the board had agreed to go along without a formal procedure—though clearly, Conklin had objected verbally, but not to the point of stopping the motion.
“If there is an objection then there has to be a second and the matter is voted on,” Gavin said. “Best practice would be for the chair to ask for a second after the question is called instead of seeing if there is consensus.”
“We’ve had this discussion before, we’ve had this discussion a multitude of times,” Conklin said, citing conflicting responses from Gavin. “In the past when this has come up she has said that a second wasn’t needed.”
But, Conklin said of “calling the question” maneuvers such as last week’s, “it’s going to end.” Conklin has called for a workshop on the issue, now scheduled for next week, as a refresher on parliamentary rules. At that point the board will be in a position to balance the collegiality it has long cherished with the stricter approaches of Robert’s Rules of Order, which can, if followed to the letter, be far more constraining than board members have been comfortable with. For example, while the rules absolutely do not provide for maneuvers such as Dickinson’s, they also require that., when discussing an item before the board for a vote, each board member may have only one go at questions, so that back and forth discussion would not be allowed. No local board operates that way, and it’s not likely the school board would want to act that way.
As for a re-vote, that issue appears to be off the table despite McDonald’s position.
In an email to Gavin on Feb. 18, McDonald called last week’s action “wrong counsel and illegal action on board’s part due to inaccurate advice.” She added: “We are subject to legal actions due to this forced effort by one board member. There is another question at hand that also needs to be formally acknowledged and rectified. I am speaking with Attorney General Bondi’s office today. No contracts are to be signed until this is sorted out.”
“My understanding,” Conklin said, “is that Mrs. McDonald and Jacob have had a conversation about this and he wanted to get a legal opinion on it from the attorney and basically there was no legal reason for a revote on the situation given that the outcome of the vote would not have been any different.”
Conklin had been made aware of the discussion because McDonald had cc’d her on her email, but not other board members. Conklin did not respond to McDonald, but was told by the administration of the issue’s outcome, as the administration perceived it, as Oliva, the superintendent, and Conklin, as the chairman of the board, decide what makes it on the agenda and what does not.
McDonald in an interview late Wednesday afternoon said she is still intent on a re-vote. “And if there are other questions,” McDonald said, “just from the outside, from what has happened since then, we need to have new information brought to the public.”
McDonald also strongly favored revisiting the matter of board members’ maneuvers during discussions so there would not be a repeat of last Tuesday. “The urgency and the lack of civility at that point was very unsettling,” McDonald said, referring to the Dickinson maneuver. “She didn’t want to hear what anyone else had to say.” (At the time, McDonald had been asking probing questions on the demolition issue, while Dickinson appeared in a hurry to be done.) “That’s not the way a board conducts business to represent the community and be good stewards of those properties. You need to do things in a thoughtful, careful way and I think we can do better than that.”
But that’s only half the problem.
The company the school board hired for $165,000 to demolish the 54,000-square-foot building at One Corporate Drive is Bunnell’s Environmental Site Services, owned by Nancy Morea. But unbeknownst to the district administration, the license enabling Environmental Site Services to carry out the demolition was pulled the day of the vote.
The company’s qualifying contractor was Lance Carroll of Flagler Beach. On Feb. 16, Carroll’s attorney, Dennis Bayer, sent Morea a letter by mail and email stating that Carroll was “unwilling to go any further in qualifying ESS to contract under his state license. Please cease and desist any and all projects where you are currently using Mr. Carroll’s state license.” (See the full letter here.)
Two days later, Carroll dropped the following comment below the Feb. 17 FlaglerLive story reporting on the vote and the approved demolition: “The general contractor that qualifies Environmental Site Services Inc. to carry on demolition within the State of Florida has notified Environmental Site Services that they can no longer operate under his license. The contractor’s name is: Lance Carroll. His license # is: CGC1507499 and he has zero interest in demolishing the property outlined in this article.” (The comment was withheld until it could be documented.) Carroll emailed a similar version of the comment to school board members, prompting their concern about the contract.
It’s not clear why Carroll chose to pull his license. The Bayer letter does not explain. Caroll himself, contacted by email, was either cagey or unresponsive when asked about his position, though it doesn’t alter the substance of his decision: Environmental Site Services could not proceed with the demolition, absent a license. (Environmental Site Services did not return a call Tuesday.)
“I’ve asked for Kristy and Jacob to take pause and look at this entire situation and to look into the allegations that Mr. Carroll is making and have worked to try to connect Lance and Kristy,” Conklin said, but she added that was uncomfortable dealing with the matter out of the sunshine, and wanted it brought out at the next board opportunity. “Whatever I’m finding out, all of the board members should be finding out,” Conklin said.
By Tuesday, the district had found this out: that Environmental Site Services was assuring the district it would get its papers in order. Morea wrote a district official on Feb. 20 that it had been in contact with the Department of Business and Professional Regulations and, in Nancy Morea’s words, “we were informed that we are allowed to have more than one qualifier for the company. The additional qualifier is Jonathan Reingold whom [sic.] is licensed over 10 years with DBPR. I am working with Kevin Trim of Professional Licensure Services located in Tallahassee Florida to submit all required documents to DPBR. They were completed on Friday, February 19th, 2016, and will be submitted to DBPR Monday, February 22nd 2016. I anticipate obtaining qualifier approval and updated license information for Environmental Site Services this week, and I will forward a copy to you upon receipt.”
Gavin summed up the issue as one between Environmental Site Services and Carroll, rather than as one between the company and the school district. “As long as it’s not impacting my price, as long as it’s not delaying my project timeline and as long as my work is being conducted in accordance with state law, I’m fine,” Gavin said.
The permits for the demolition had not yet been pulled anyway, Gavin said—that was expected in about three weeks. By then, the licensing matter should be resolved, and the demolition is expected to proceed accordingly, Gavin said.
But all these issues are to be aired at next week’s school board meeting, on March 1.