Mannix About Manatee: Superintendent makes big pitch for investigation

March 9, 2014 

One of Rick Mills' first official acts as Manatee County's new school superintendent was throwing out the first pitch at McKechnie Field last March.

It was a breaking ball.

A year later, he's firing a heater all the way to Tallahassee.

Whether it's a strike we'll have to wait and see.

Mills wants the Florida Department of Education's Inspector General to investigate the Manatee school district's financial practices under its previous administration from 2010-2012.

Principally, that would be Tim McGonegal, Mills' predecessor, and Jim Drake, the former assistant superintendent responsible for finance.

Incompetence.

Malfeasance.

Misfeasance.

Those are just some of the allegations Mills unloaded in last Thursday's letter to the inspector general.

Malfeasance? Misfeasance?

I had to look up the difference in their meanings. But suffice it to say they apply to the consequences of what happens when sticking to a budget is an illusory concept and moving around large amounts of money like a shellgame is common practice.

To wit:

• $4.5 million overspent in 2011-12.

• $8.5 million overspent in 2012-13.

• $38 million overspent over five years.

Even though we've seen those numbers before, they're still staggering.

Which is why Mills said a common refrain when meeting the public -- "Where is the accountability from what happened?" -- prompted his letter to Tallahassee.

Whether the inspector general follows up on this request is anyone's guess.

I have my doubts.

My gut feeling is they'll say this is beating a dead horse.

It's been 18 months since McGonegal resigned in disgrace.

It's been two years since Drake retired at McGonegal's behest for repeated budget errors.

By the way, guess who is the executive director for finance and performance at Monroe County schools?

Why, Jim Drake.

Go figure.

In any case, McGonegal didn't think much of Mills' letter. Hilarious, he called it.

I think not.

McGonegal is as nice a man as you'll meet, but the financial mismanagement that took place on his watch is mind-blowing.

To have the Florida Legislature's Joint Legislative Auditing Committee call the conclusions of the Auditor General's investigation "appalling" and "radioactive" is some legacy.

Regardless, McGonegal connects Mills' letter to the inspector general with the school board's infighting, calling it, "A distraction from their dysfunction."

Dysfunction junction, all right. Such is the ongoing state of affairs with our rudderless school board. Almost the same school board that sang McGonegal's praises right up until the roof caved in on all of them.

To date, investigations and audits have had similar findings on the past administration's financial failures, a debacle the present one is still cleaning up.

It was incompetence, they ruled. As for something more serious?

We'll see if Mills' fastball hits the inspector general's strike zone.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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