MANATEE — The board of the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County voted to remove one of its members Wednesday on the recommendation of its executive director.
The board voted 10-4 to dismiss Jennifer Radebach. the founder of the Radebach School, from its ranks. A two-thirds majority was required.
Executive Director Paul Sharff recommended Radebach’s ouster at the ELC board’s last meeting in August. Sharff said Radebach was negative and bogged down meetings with endless questions.
“I don’t mind dissension,” Sharff said after Wednesday’s meeting. “I hear it all the time in the Republican party. I don’t get mad about it. There just wasn’t anything positive from Jennifer.”
The ELC is a government-funded organization that oversees local school-readiness programs.
Radebach, who joined the board at Sharff’s behest in July 2008, did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. A colleague, Darelyn Poole, read a statement from Radebach that said she had a prior commitment with the chamber of commerce group Leadership Manatee.
“I have not done anything that warrants my dismissal from this board,” Radebach’s statement said. “I have not violated the bylaws or the governance policy of this organization and find no grounds for my removal other than that the executive director does not like that I ask questions and hold him accountable.”
Program provider Janet Hamstra spoke before the vote and warned board members about “the precedent you’re going to set.”
“There are those who think asking questions benefits boards such as this,” Hamstra said. “Will you be the next one voted off?”
Janice Mee, Linda Guritz, Mary Beth Wehnes and Wanda Read-Burke voted against the resolution to remove Radebach. Read-Burke attended her first meeting after being appointed to the board by Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday. She asked to abstain but was instructed to vote unless she had a conflict of interest.
Board Chairman Howard Veltz said he was relieved the board disposed of the issue.
“It was like an anvil around our necks. ... I think it was a distraction going through something like that,” he said.
Sharff, a politically connected businessman and former county Republican party chief, has come under scrutiny over his personal finances, including a $22.9 million Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing and a fraud lawsuit he filed against Flagship National Bank.
Sharff said he was committed to remaining at the ELC despite calls for him to step down.
“I can’t change the economy. ... I can do my Chapter 11 and hope I can weather through it. I can make a change with these kids. I can make a change by politicking to get more money for them,” Sharff said.
Also on Wednesday, the board voted 11-3 to retain Jason Henbest as the ELC board counsel despite his ties to the law firm of state Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, Sharff’s personal attorney.
Sharff asked the board to reconsider Henbest’s contract, approved at the August meeting, because commenters on the Bradenton Herald’s Web site raised questions about possible impropriety. Henbest, a former county attorney, works for the firm Grimes, Goebel, Grimes, Hawkins, Gladfelter and Galvano.
Board member Dianne Kopczynski urged the board to change counsel.
“I just feel as a board I would like to remain independent of any issue that is going on with the attorney and Paul,” she said.
But Veltz said there is no conflict of interest and warned the board against caving in to public pressure.
“Two months ago, we voted unanimously,” Veltz said. “We came into this with eyes wide open. I wasn’t about to change because of some public perception. I think it would be terrible to breach this contract.”