I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
What happens when an attorney and an individual board member find themselves at odds over important and urgent school-related matters---and the board attorney REFUSES to answer questions and/or provide legal opinions?
What happens when an attorney that purportedly works for the school board decides to write a memo to one board member, one part of her client, unsolicited, and that board member takes issue with this?
This happened with this memo which was sent to me unsolicited and copied to persons outside the client, other members of the school board, and various secretaries----with no disclaimers attached describing it a privileged attorney client work product.
This memo, due to the way it was disseminated, instantly became a public record that could be badly damaging to the client, the school board, and one part of the client, me. I could not get a straight answer from the attorney about why she felt it was not a public record and what the specific exemption would be preventing disclosure---- however I am aware that exemptions from disclosure are narrowly construed to effect broad public policy favoring disclosure. (WSMAA, 1998, p.18)
This memo became an instant public record, so far as I can tell, due to the way it was disseminated.
That is problematic.
Obviously I strongly disagree with the content of the memo, and I strongly disagree with the rationale for releasing this memo, the way it was released and the insinuations raised by this memo.
I disavow the content of this memo and disagree completely with every insinuation contained within this memo.
From day one when I received it, I have voiced my disagreement while simultaneously I've been trying to get answers to questions I have about this memo. Our Board attorney, Donna Sessions Waters, refuses to answer any of the legitimate questions I have related to this memo, either in writing via email, or via a sit-down, face to face conversation. I have emailed her three times with specific requests and questions about this memo, and these questions have been ignored.
In an attempt to straighten this issue out I requested and scheduled a meeting with Donna Waters yesterday, 11-10-2015 at 4:00 PM, at which point I was going to ask her 18 specific questions ( here, here, here, here, and here ). I have tried to receive answers to these questions via email, to no avail, about her conduct as it relates to her creation, dissemination, and subsequent refusal to answer any of my legitimate questions about this memo.
I've never witnessed such unprofessional, insubordinate, and disrespectful conduct from an employee
in my nearly 10 years on this school board.
If I unilaterally had the power to reprimand, suspend, and/or terminate this employee today, based upon this gross insubordination and unprofessional conduct, I would do so instantly based upon this horrific conduct I witnessed and was subjected to yesterday.
Sadly, I have completely lost confidence in this employee, her judgment, and her ability to do her job effectively.
She answered only one (1) of my 18 specific questions, and then less than five minutes into the meeting, she began to launch into ad hominem personal attacks on my character, delineating loudly, her recollections of issues she had with me and my conduct over the last 7 years.
"I won't sit here and play games, Jeff!" "What is it you want to know" she stated loudly.
"Donna, I need answers to these questions about this memo you have created," I responded.
"I will not answer these questions if you are going to interrupt me" she continued, as she stood up and leave the room.
I asked her to stay, told her I would let her answer.
I requested that she answer the legitimate questions I had, and she twice, loudly, insinuated that I have committed a violation of FERPA---a charge that was made in the presence of the attorney's secretary and the board's secretary. When I pressed her to describe, precisely, what record I had released, she first did not answer, then she described the specific hearsay I mentioned in social media posts from last month as the "record" I allegedly released.
Her opinion is wrong, though. I had no records of any incident last month, no access to any student records from specific incidents that occurred last month, and the only information I had from 10-10-15 through 11-6-2015 was hearsay provided to me by deeply concerned constituents, parents, and students with knowledge of the incident--that was in and of itself simply "hearsay".
A criminal complaint alleging a FERPA violation would need to be proved beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt--Mrs. Waters must know this----so why make such an incorrect statement? Her opinion and allegation is flat wrong. I believe it could be legal malpractice. I'm a part of her client!
As she stormed out of my office, her paralegal had a flummoxed, embarrassed look on her face- I was embarrassed for her. The board secretary appeared shocked as well, as I left the office after this spectacle that was supposed to be a meeting.
At this Thursday's meeting, I suppose I'll have to ask these questions in front of the full board at the open meeting during my presentation and discussion on Legal Office Memos----this is certainly not the way I wanted to handle this.....but I still need answers, I'm still waiting for answers, and I will get the answers.....
After she stormed out of my office, I leaned into her office to ask Mrs. Waters whom it was that would answer the questions and provide legal opinions to me regarding her memo that she wrote, to which she replied "I'm not answering any of your questions, I suggest you hire your own lawyer!" and she subsequently slammed her door.
Walking away from the questions I have, refusing to answer the questions I have, and failing to answer questions related to her unsolicited, badly flawed memo she wrote to me is utterly disrespectful and wholly inappropriate. Completely unprofessional.
Making arguably slanderous, libelous accusations loudly about me and to me, in front of multiple witnesses, insinuated in written public record memorandums and public record emails, is and was more than unprofessional. These actions cross the line.
She should declare a conflict of interest if she believes one exists between her and I, otherwise she must answer these legitimate questions I have as they relate to this ill-conceived memo she wrote to me.
I now am in the untenable, gut-wrenching position of having to contemplate making a complaint against the very attorney that is supposed to represent our school board.
But I will not accept this flippant conduct, and I certainly will not accept written and now verbal allegations from our attorney that are untrue, yet potentially devastating to me individually and to the corporate board collectively.
If I do not receive answers to my questions, I will not rule out the possibility that I will file a Bar Complaint against this attorney, Donna Sessions Waters. I let Mrs. Waters know this as I left her office after she rudely slammed her office door in my face.
What a toxic, disastrous mess this has become. Tragic.