UPDATED: What “sexual harassment training” did “executive staff” receive on July 11, 2017?

Additional later update (Wednesday evening): HR Director Teddra Porteous just provided me with the power point presentation used in the training. She is looking for the sign-in sheet. I’ll review the presentation when I can.

And Porteous provided an email showing that she first sought out Gonzalez for the training on May 31, as Wes Bridges behest.

A few other updates in the body of the post.

Important earlier update (Wednesday evening): I just got off the phone after a strange and testy conversation with Thomas Gonzalez. I sent his office, through his public website, a link to this article early this morning. I just wanted him to be aware I had written it. He called me late this afternoon. It was not a particularly pleasant talk. He seems to think I have accused him of something. I have not. More on that in a second.

But first, Gonzalez told me a pretty important piece of news: Polk District HR has asked him to review the Jason Looney investigations. It’s a little unclear what that means and if there’s any documentation of the services anywhere. District staff certainly isn’t communicating with me about any of this. So I welcome Gonzalez’s information; but I don’t think the scope of what he’s been asked to do is adequate to fulfill what I’m asking. He seemed to agree, but it was a combative kind of agreement.

He and I talked over each other quite a bit; and I think he was quite impatient with me trying to explain the limitations of the scope of the review I think he’s been asked to perform. All in all, it was a weird chat and kind of inconclusive, which is fine, because I will be asking the board to clarify the scope of a review at our next meeting.

I did provide Gonzalez with the timeline I’ve created and asked him to read it, which he agreed to do, I think. But he also seemed to think that it wouldn’t really be relevant to his review. I don’t know for certain, though; it was kind of a circular conversation.

As regards the “training” on July 11, 2017, Gonzalez told me that it was, in fact, a routine, pre-scheduled training. But we had difficulty establishing when it had been scheduled. I think he’s planning to send me emails about the scheduling. I hope so.  I mentioned to Gonzalez that the District had not created a consultative service agreement until months after the training — and that he did not sign it until November of 2017.

Gonzalez said the training took place in an outbuilding of the District Headquarters in Bartow. He said he couldn’t remember exactly who was there. He said he assumed it was all the senior staff plus at least some principals.

He said he “was not there to give legal advice.” And he said no specific names came up. I pushed him on this. And he said neither district staff nor him used names in conjunction with the content discussed.

I am still waiting for district staff to answer these questions from our side. If this was a routine sexual harassment training, surely we taped the session for reuse? Or at least documented in people’s files who attended?

Finally, Gonzalez seemed to think I had accused him of trying to cover something up in the article that follows. He used “cover up” in a sentence expressing displeasure with me. He denied he has ever covered anything up. And that’s fine because I never remotely accused him of covering anything up.

Let me be clear. My questions about this training were all for School District personnel. [If you were there, please call me at 863-209-4037.] Whatever Gonzalez did, and he’s clear that he considers this a standard sexual harassment training and nothing more, I always assumed he was acting in good faith in accordance with the requests of district staff as clients.

There’s no need for him to be defensive. I may not think he’s the right figure for this review. And I know he hasn’t been given the scope I asked for privately and publicly multiple times. But I’m not accusing him of doing anything wrong. He’s just doing his job as near as I can tell.

Should he like to add anything to this, I’m happy to publish it.

Original article below, with some updates.

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Brandi Garcia Blanchard sent her email complaint about Tenoroc Principal Jason Looney to Polk School District leadership on July 7, 2017.

On July 10, 2017, I sent an email to District leadership titled: “A very serious HR problem at Teneroc.” [I stupidly misspelled Tenoroc for a while.] It said this:

“I have now spoken at length with Ms. Blanchard. I understand she has told the same information to some of you in writing. I take her allegations very, very seriously. Her allegations, are, in fact, far more serious, it seems to me, than those that led to the departure of the top officials in our accountability office. They describe a pattern — corroborated by others at other schools — of unacceptable behavior and leadership. What she describes is utterly contrary to the culture of professionalism, respect, and professional development that I demand from this district. If any one of you would like to call me, I am happy to elaborate further on my understanding and expectations.”

The very next day, on July 11, 2017, a high-powered local government labor law attorney named Thomas Gonzalez gave a “Sexual Harassment Training” for “executive staff” of the Polk School District. It’s always possible that my memory is faulty. But I remember no discussion whatsoever of this training — in private with staff or in public with the board.

I discovered this “training” on Monday, nearly a year after it happened, while scouring old business services contracts that did not come to School Board for approval because their amount sits below $250,000. Several months after the training, the Polk District paid Gonzalez $750.83.

Who is Thomas Gonzalez?

He is a founding partner of the Thompson, Sizemore, Gonzalez & Hearing law firm of Tampa. Gonzalez is the former City Attorney of Tampa and former Hillsborough County School Board Attorney.

In short, he is a heavy hitter in employment law for local governments. He has represented management in multiple ways for the Polk School District.

No timely consultative services agreement

No consultative services agreement to provide the training was created in advance of July 11.But HR Director Teddra Porteous did reach out to Gonzalez on May 31, so it was not a spontaneous event. Here is the email.

After some back and forth, the date is set for June 22. And then it must have been rescheduled for July 11. But I don’t see that in the emails.

Gonzalez did not sign the “consultative services agreement” (CSA) for the “training” until November 11, 2017, exactly four months after the “training.”

The CSA describes Gonzalez’s bill as a flat fee for a full day.

But that seems to be an error. Porteous said in an email she wanted the training to be about an hour-and-a-half. That would make sense for a $750.83 bill.

Polk HR Director Teddra Porteous explained the delay in creating a CSA for this work in a note to Superintendent Jackie Byrd sent on October 17, 2017. Click to enlarge.

Here is the relevant text from Porteous:

This letter is in reference to paying Tom Gonzalez’s bill for $750.83 for conducting the Sexual Harassment Training. This training occurred on July 11, 2017 for executive staff.

I scheduled this training when I did not have a secretary and I failed to complete a CSA. We are requesting the bill be paid in full and in the future, a CSA will be completed, prior to and trainings of this nature.

What was the content of this “training”?

I am not at all clear what “the nature” of this “training” entails. So I sent an email to staff  yesterday (Wednesday, June 12, 2018) asking for answers. Here are the questions:

Can you tell me which executive staff, specifically, received this training?
Can you tell me when it was scheduled?
And are there any materials? Can you elaborate on the content?
If you’re able to answer those questions in time for next week’s meeting, that would be great.
I have received a note indicating that staff is preparing a response. But there is another question I should have asked at first that I’ve just asked now.
Can you tell me if Brandi Blanchard, Jason Looney, or me [School Board Member Billy Townsend] were discussed in this training in any way?
[Update: Both Porteous and Gonzalez say no specific names came up. All the other questions, except attendees, have been answered now.]
Finally, it’s important to place this “training” in the context of the Kathryn LeRoy investigation and recommendations. This was one of the recommendations, made on January 20, 2016, by the law firm that investigated LeRoy.
“We would also recommend that all executive level (cabinet) administrators, including the Superintendent, receive additional sexual harassment training and maintain a regular documented schedule of such training in the future.”

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