Two weeks into the new year, School Board attorney Kristy Gavin was still on the job Thursday, awaiting the letter from School Board Chair Will Furry firing her. Furry, in turn, has been waiting on fellow-Board member Sally Hunt to produce the alleged causes justifying Gavin’s firing.
“My guess is he is delivering the letter with just cause tomorrow,” Board member Cheryl Massaro said on Thursday.
Once fired, it is a matter of time before Furry and the rest of the board are themselves served with a lawsuit. “Certainly, quite a large, large lawsuit. Suits, plural, to follow, because it’s a wrongful discharge,” Massaro said, noting that the board members wanting her fired–Furry, Hunt, Christy Chong–have continued to rely on Gavin’s legal opinions at meetings. “And yet they’re terminating her because they don’t trust her. That’s not going to look too good. And it’s all on video. Everything is on video.”
Absent “mutual agreement,” Gavin by contract may be fired only for “just cause,” itself defined as “dereliction of duty, failure to report to work, misconduct in office or violation of criminal law.” The board chair, in this case Furry, is required to give Gavin written notice, with just causes outlined. (See Gavin’s contract here.)
Furry doesn’t like Gavin but hasn’t spoken of having issues that rise beyond antipathy to “just cause.” Hunt for months has been saying that she has just cause. Chong has hinted likewise, but more fuzzily. Furry has been waiting on Hunt. He’d set a late December deadline. It passed. He’d set an other deadline for last Wednesday. It passed. As of Thursday morning, Superintendent LaShakia Moore was saying that “nothing has been provided at this time.”
Moore’s executive secretary, Jennifer Gimbel, repeated likewise in an email to FlaglerLive Friday morning: “At this time we have not received any ‘for cause’ letter/documents or a letter of termination.”
Hunt, who likes to freelance as her own Hammurabi, has found numerous reasons not to produce her causes: she needed time, she didn’t think they should be public, she wanted an attorney, or attorneys, to review them, but she has been absolutely certain that she has just cause, because other attorneys, always mysterious, have assured her she does.
But she may well have produced them, and Furry may well have conveyed them to the Schutts and Bowen law firm, skirting public record requests: Furry is on record, at a school board meeting, openly flouting the open records law. Schutts and Bowen is one of several firms or attorneys formally or informally advising the board and the district since the board’s inquisition shifted from firing Cathy Mittelstadt, the former superintendent, to firing Gavin. Schutts and Bowen is ostensibly preparing the firing letter that will bear Furry’s name.
Gavin was yet again the board attorney of record at the board’s last workshop on Tuesday, and she has been reporting to work, as usual, and carrying on her duties, as usual. But the board late last year issued a request for letters of interest from law firms so it can replace Gavin. The board received responses from two law firms–GrayRobinson, a firm with offices across the state, and the Douglas Law Firm of St. Augustine.
Kristen Collora, the district’s procurement director, submitted proposals from the two law firms to the four board members in attendance at Tuesday’s workshop (Chong was absent) and, dubiously, told the board members to keep it all secret, adding to the shockingly haphazard approach: “We didn’t set any kinds of criteria to score these,” Collora said–nor was the discussion item on Tuesday’s agenda, or any related documents posted.
Both Collora–to the board–and Gavin in an email said the proposals are protected from public record disclosure. But the exemption Gavin cited applies to the administrative bid process. In this case, the documents have been placed in school board members’ hands and are in the process of being evaluated for a board decision, not an administrative recommendation or decision. Every time any local government in Flagler County, municipal, county or school board, has evaluated attorneys’ submittal for potential employment in the last 20 years, the process has been open, the applicants’ documents readily available to public examination. This is only the latest example of a school board flouting precedent, public, and, possibly, law.
“So really what the next step is here is these are your copies to review make notes,” Collora told the board members. “We need to set a date to come together to proceed further, where you would discuss your evaluation of each of these firms and where we would like to go with either of them.”
In Massaro’s view, the board is also being either casual or arbitrary in proceeding to the hire of a new law firm, with little clarity about whether the firm would represent the board, the district administration, or both. “Nothing has been formally adopted, in my recollection,” she said, beyond the approval of a job description. “I don’t know what we’re doing. Are we going to continue to hire one attorney? And then do that, and are we going to go with the school board representative and the district attorney? We’ve never really formally made any decision. And I think we should do that first.”
The financial costs are also unknown. Furry said the board is looking for interim representation, with separate, interim representation available to the administration, but said the matter could be clarified at a workshop or a meeting in February–all without revealing any documents to the public, even as the matter would make it to an agenda for a vote.
Massaro is concerned about costs, especially if the district ends up with two sets of attorneys representing the board on one hand and the administration on the other. “I have no idea what’s going on,” Massaro said on Thursday. “Will is handling it, and I’m sure he’s not worried about rules and regulations.”
In the context of the same discussion, Furry briefly said that a “mutual agreement” with Gavin to stay on as staff attorney had failed, requiring Hunt to produce her “causes” to fire her. He did not say who she should turn those causes to.
Gavin was looking to finish out her contract, which has about 18 months to run. The agreement failed on two grounds: Gavin would have been required to agree not to sue the district, at least for the first six months of her continued tenure, a condition imposed on no other district employee. But at the end of that six months, she would have had no guarantee of being re-hired for the next 12 months, even if she had a good evaluation. She found that untenable. Nor has board members’ conduct has not sat well with her.
“I’m just kind of tired of being the–‘it’s OK to disparage her from the dais,'” Gavin said. “I am tired of being accused of stuff. I’m tired of it.”