Even as he’s sought to shroud it in secrecy, School Board Chairman Will Furry insisted today that the firing letter he signed on Monday and that went to Kristy Gavin, the former school board attorney, was “for cause,” as required by her contract.
The one-page letter, obtained by FlaglerLive, contains no cause. (See below.) The silence on the matter, at once surprising and not, appears to be one more weapon in Gavin’s arsenal should she sue the district for breach of contract and wrongful termination.
“We regret to inform you that your employment with The School Board of Flagler County, Florida (the “School Board*) will be terminated effective as of January 22, 2024, the date upon which you were provided a copy of this letter,” the letter begins. Furry started it with “Dear Ms. Gavin.”
“In accordance with Section 6(A) and 6(B) of your Employment Agreement executed on July 19, 2022, this termination decision is based on action taken at a duly noticed meeting of the School Board which occurred on October 26, 2023, at which time it was decided that your employment with the School Board would be terminated for ’cause’ as defined under your Employment Agreement,” Furry goes on.
Section 6(A) states that Gavin could be subject to “discharge only for just cause,” defined as “dereliction of duty, failure to report to work, misconduct in office or violation of criminal law.” Section 6(B) states that the board chair must give written notice of termination.
But again: no causes are provided. There is no attachment to the letter. The letter’s remainder is boilerplate: all payments and benefits end, the final paycheck would be issued on the net scheduled payroll date, and Gavin is to return all School Board property, “including all documents, any district-issued computers or other electronic equipment, and any other School Board property and information in your possession.” It’s not exactly clear how Gavin is to return 18 years of accumulated institutional information about the district and this and previous school boards, or how the board intends to seize it, if she does not return it.
That’s the letter.
Since December, Furry himself had implored Sally Hunt, the school board member who claimed to have causes to fire Gavin, to draft the causes and turn them in. Almost daily requests for the document since then, placed as public record requests with the administration, yielded no results, with the superintendent’s executive secretary saying every time that the district had received nothing.
Unsurprisingly, some school board members were surprised by the vacuity of the letter.
“I guess my question is, why then, and was there–were we advised not to include just cause?” Board member Colleen Conklin asked at the end of this afternoon’s workshop. But no answer was allowed.
“On this particular topic, just given the issues surrounding it,” a voice said from a speaker phone in the middle of the board table, “I would certainly proceed with caution on discussing all the records, any statements that could potentially be problematic down the road.” It was the voice of David Delaney of Weiss Serota, the law firm the board would be hiring this evening on an interim basis to give it legal representation during meetings. Delaney himself said he wasn’t yet officially the board’s attorney, but spoke as such. (Though the agreement with Weiss Serota has been drawn up, it characteristically was not available on the board’s agenda for public review, as many documents surrounding attorney issues have not been: the board has routinely skirted close to, or beyond, the impermissible on public records in that regard. A separate agreement was on the board’s agenda: that for Sniffen and Spellman, the law firm that will provide legal representation to the superintendent and staff. Previously, Gavin did both–representing the board and the staff.)
Furry, for his part, still insisted that his letter fulfilled the contractual requirement, “Because it is for cause,” he said, “that is something that was clear by Schutts and Bowen,” yet another law firm the board had retained for counsel on the Gavin contract and termination letter. “That does satisfy a letter that’s stated for cause, they confirmed that with me, they helped to prepare that.”
“How do we know what that is?” Conklin asked.
“You’ll have to call the attorney on that,” Furry said.
Board member Cheryl Massaro said she had already called the Shutts and Bowen attorney, and cited the firm’s own letter on that score, written several months ago at the beginning of the process: “If the school board determines to pursue a just cause termination, which is for cause–that’s what the letter says–it should base such a decision on articulated reasons set forth in writing including factual support for each and such reason.’ That is from Shutts and Bowen, verbatim. It does not. So where does that leave us?”
The exchanges between board members put in sharp relief the haphazardness of the way the board built its case against Gavin and eventually fired her–a haphazardness echoed by the way it had opted not to renew former Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt’s contract, essentially firing her without cause, either, and the way it had backed into hiring Moore as superintendent, though no one is blaming the board for that decision. The exchanges were also reflective of the board’s nervousness about the likely lawsuit Gavin will file against it: Massaro said it is certain to come.
Massaro asked Furry: “Did you not request cause be delivered at the last school board meeting before December 31?”
“I did request that that happen and sent directly to the attorneys. I’m not–I’m not privy to any of that information that was provided,” Furry said–again indicating to what extent the document trail, if there is one, has been either intentionally or benignly obfuscated, even at the cost of board members’ own knowledge of what has gone on.
“So technically, we have terminated without cause,” Massaro said.
Furry lost patience. “That not–I’m going to ask you to please govern yourself accordingly,” Furry snapped, “but we’ve been advised by two counsels to not make statements like that. Okay? So I would highly recommend that we follow the advice of counsel and not make statements like that either here or in the media or in the public.”
“I will say what I’m going to say,” Massaro said.240122