Legal issues dominate Manatee County School Board meeting

BRADENTON -- In the wake of the suspension of the Manatee County School District's professional standards investigator and his subsequent lawsuit Monday, legal issues continued to dominate Tuesday in the Manatee County School Board meeting.

During the board meeting, the district settled a lawsuit with a nonprofit, approved a motion to reimburse board Chairman Bob Gause for legal expenses and again tabled making a decision on former district employee Gregg Faller, but accepted a resignation from former district employee Matthew Kane.

The board approved paying Gause $28,310 in legal fees by 3-1 vote with Mary Cantrell, Charlie Kennedy and Dave "Watchdog" Miner voting yes and Karen Carpenter voting no.

The fees were incurred after three residents filed ethics complaints against Gause in October 2012. The Commission on Ethics ultimately dismissed all complaints against Gause.

Discussions mainly centered on a 34-page lawsuit filed Monday against the school district, school board and board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner individually. Professional standards investigator Troy Pumphrey was placed on paid leave Monday by Superintendent Rick Mills, the same day Pumphrey filed a nine-count counter lawsuit.

The board also agreed to cap legal fees for Miner at $5,000 by a 4-to-0 vote, with Miner not voting. At the previous meeting, the board approved providing Miner with an attorney to defend himself in the lawsuit filed by Pumphrey.

The board once again discussed the employment status of Faller and Kane, two former administrators who were involved in the Roderick Frazier student assault case.

An administrative law judge previously said the district was justified in firing both men but the district allowed Kane to formally resign instead of being fired. Board members wanted to know how the resignation was beneficial to the district.

Because the effective date of Kane's resignation is backdated to the day he was placed on unpaid administrative leave, it takes the district off the hook for backpay, said Terry Harmon, a lawyer with employment attorneys Sniffen and Spellman of Tallahassee, which is handling the case for the district.

"By accepting the resignation, it would dismiss administrative action," Harmon said. "It would end that case at this point."

The resignation also leaves the door open for Kane to potentially be re-employed with the district.

Faller chose not to resign. Faller said he would not be before the board at this time if he didn't believe people had lied.

"The findings in this trial are to be questionable at best," Faller said, saying the investigation done by Pumphrey should be questioned, since Pumphrey's investigation led to the trial and the hearing. "The investigation run by Troy Pumphrey was an attack."

Faller and Harmon were each given 15 minutes to speak to the board.

Board attorney Jim Dye said the board was not allowed to take into account the Pumphrey situation, and the decision could only be based upon what was on the record and had been proven during the hearing.

"If it happened after the hearing closed, it's irrelevant to your deliberations," Dye said.

The board seemed inclined to issue a lesser punishment than firing Faller, but ultimately tabled the item. The board is required to cite a specific reason for lowering the punishment and were not prepared to do so Tuesday.

Board member Charlie Kennedy recused himself as a former Manatee High School employee who worked with Faller.

In addition, the board approved a settlement with Our Public Records LLC in which the district denied any wrongdoing and is only paying its own attorney fees. Our Public Records had claimed the district ignored a public records request. The district said the request slipped through the cracks and when alerted of the issue via lawsuit, they provided the information.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.