A discussion between Manatee School Board Chairman Scott Hopes and board member Charlie Kennedy — billed as a meeting to improve board unity and communication — ended with a decision to postpone the talks after they disagreed on whether to record the meeting.
Tension between Hopes and Kennedy erupted last month when Kennedy tried to remove Hopes as the school board chairman. The move came after Hopes and board member Dave Miner got into a parking lot argument outside the school district administration building.
Kennedy, arriving to the School Support Center just before 9 a.m., looked at the table in Room 203 and asked where to find the audio recorder. Hopes said there would be no recording, sparking a 15-minute standoff.
"It's not intended to create election fodder," Hopes said. "There's no reason to create a recording that becomes a publicly available document under public disclosure law for the next 50 years. They inhibit the conversation."
Hopes said they could talk openly without the fear of having their conversation analyzed in the future. And without seeing their body language, he said, listeners could misinterpret the conversation.
The meeting was publicly noticed, and the minutes were recorded. Hopes felt there was no reason to go beyond the legal requirement.
"We are required to have minutes, and the minutes don't have to be detailed either," he said.
Both Hopes and Kennedy agreed a positive relationship is key to the board's overall success. Kennedy said he wanted to leave behind his recent effort to oust Hopes, instead focusing on funding for school security, and on the possibility of Superintendent Diana Greene leaving for Duval County.
"We've got too much going on in the district for this to continue," he said. "I agree with you on what the result of walking out the door should be; it just doesn't sit right with me that we will leave it to the minutes. What is the harm in recording?"
The debate then shifted to a 45-minute discussion about the parking lot argument between Hopes and Miner on Feb. 27. About a month later, Kennedy made a motion to consider rescinding the school board vote that made Hopes chair. The decision was delayed to April 10, when Hopes halted the vote, calling it illegal and out of order.
Kennedy has said the motion was motivated by Hopes' comment to a police officer after the altercation: "He's lucky my gun was in my car," Hopes allegedly said, referring to Miner.
Hopes accused Miner of trying to run him over during the argument, an allegation that led to an investigation by the Bradenton Police Department, which found no probable cause to file criminal charges. On Friday, Hopes said he came under attack a second time when the focus shifted to his removal rather than Miner's alleged conduct.
"Maybe you don't realize how shook up I was," Hopes said. "He scared the daylights out of me, and nobody seemed to care about that. They cared about a comment that was made in front of a reporter."
The friction began to fade after a training session that allowed board members to reconcile their differences. However, thinking the problem was resolved, Hopes erased the vote on his possible removal from the April 10 agenda, reigniting tensions with Kennedy. The agenda item was re-added days later.
On Friday, Kennedy said he was also concerned with a meeting that took place between Hopes and Gov. Rick Scott, which involved a discussion about Miner.
"My fear was, at the time, because you have a relationship with the governor, you were possibly attempting to have Mr. Miner removed from the school board," Kennedy said.
"Give me the benefit of the doubt," Hopes responded. "If I were trying to bring a board together to better serve the organization, that I'm smart enough to know that trying to do something like that would be disastrous for the board."
Kennedy said throughout the meeting that, as a result of his observations and discussions with others, he felt Hopes sometimes overstepped his authority. Kennedy did not elaborate, saying only that "the line between board and staff has been crossed."
Those feelings, Hopes said, are likely the result of misinformation and false perceptions.
The hour-long meeting ended with two agreements. First, without a consensus on the audio recording, Friday's discussion would not continue. Second, the whole board would have a round-table discussion in the future.
"Good next step," Kennedy said.