Jessica Vaughn and Nadia Combs want time to discuss pressing issues that face the district. Chairwoman Lynn Gray says there are other ways to communicate.
Tampa Bay Times | by Marlene Sokol | February 25, 2021
On the evening before a meeting she will not attend, Hillsborough County School Board Chairwoman Lynn Gray sent this email to board members Nadia Combs and Jessica Vaughn:
“Dear Nadia and Jessica,”
“As Chair of the Hillsborough County School Board, I want to share with you my thoughts about the “member to member” scheduled for today. Let me first say, I understand the motivation behind wanting to have the space and opportunity to discuss weighty issues with fellow Board Members. Florida has a very strong Sunshine Law that requires all discussions that will be voted in by the Board be made at a noticed public meeting. This provides transparency for the public and accountability for elected officials. It also sometimes makes it difficult for elected officials to interact in a human way…which we all know is simply maddening at times.
“The Board has established a “Way of Work” document that creates opportunities for Board Members to interact in the Sunshine. During our upcoming Board retreat this document will be discussed and perhaps edited with new Board Members’ input.
“When do we get to chit chat together as a board? Currently these opportunities include: Board Meetings, workshops, Board Retreats, and our future Master Board retreats. In the past, the Board has also utilized Board Committees. As Chair, I am interested in revisiting the monthly Finance Committee meetings due to the relevancy of our district’s problematic fiscal condition and the continual flow of monies coming in and going out…for lack of better words.
“These established ways of work mentioned, allow for meaningful discussions within a framework that provides an infrastructure for the discussions, including proper staff participation and meaningful opportunities for the public to view and participate. This way of work also provides for proper scheduling to ensure Board Member availability.
“I have deep respect for the passion behind the scheduling of a Member to Member meeting, but I feel strongly that there are ways to create a space for the anticipated discussions within the established way of work to ensure full participation by the Board and the Superintendent. I am open to discussions about ways to accomplish the desired end of more meaningful, robust and collaborative conversations among Board Members.
“We are reminded that the work we do and the words we say represent the entire board. Just think about today during our Legislative outreach to the Hillsborough Delegation. Two Senators and a few House Representatives reported to Kristen great remarks about our Board.. We operate at the highest level when all seven of us and the Superintendent are working together toward our common goals…soon to be official in the Strategic Plan. (alas…another retreat for all of us to discuss and collaborate together for the common goal) You see; that is called ‘the Work of the Board.’
“In closing I know all seven Board Members care deeply about the issues we pursue. As Chair I embrace and look forward in finding ways to expand our group dialogue opportunities. We will definitely take this subject up at our retreat next week.
“Meanwhile, I wish each of you much success with your endeavors on Thursday.
“Take best of care,
Vaughn and Combs, frustrated that the normal meeting schedule does not allow them enough time to discuss pressing issues that face the district, invited all seven to the 2 p.m. meeting in their downtown Tampa boardroom. Members Melissa Snively and Henry “Shake” Washington have told the Tampa Bay Times that they will not take part, as did superintendent Addison Davis.
The Times is waiting to hear directly from members Stacy Hahn and Karen Perez. According to a video that Vaughn posted on her Facebook page, Perez is expected to attend through a Zoom connection.
Guests should not expect to be allowed to comment, as this is not a town hall-type meeting, Vaughn said in her video. If there is a need for town halls, Vaughn said, they might be arranged.
The purpose, Vaughn said, is for those board members who attend to be able to discuss issues that include the district’s budgetary problems, the possible sale of its downtown headquarters, the threat of a state takeover, and plans to close or consolidate under-enrolled schools.
Photo: From left, Jessica Vaughn, Nadia Combs, Henry “Shake” Washington and Lynn Gray pose during an event before the Nov. 3 election. With all four now on the Hillsborough School Board, Vaughn and Combs have scheduled a special meeting in which the two of them will talk about pressing issues involving the school district. Washington will not attend, nor will Gray, who says there are more conventional ways to communicate. [ Courtesy of Nilesh Kapadia ]