I’ll have a fuller discussion soon of the rather fascinating issues raised by the great Townsend/Fields Sunshine Law kerfuffle of 2016.
But I do want to say this now: public officials should be scrutinized, myself included. We should not whine about it — or hide from it.
Indeed, that’s why I personally forwarded the emails in question to The Ledger. I want reporters to know what I’m doing on important issues so they can scrutinize me. I do not fault the Ledger reader who complained about the exchange. I do not fault The Ledger or its reporters for writing the story. I don’t fault Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation for thinking it might be a technical violation. I know and like Barbara. And I have recently sought her out to consult about what I can write publicly here. I want to avoid any grinding against the law. But Barbara is not the law, as she’ll be the first to tell you.
And the Sunshine Law’s interpretation and communication is so obtuse and complex in some places that it can actually defeat its own purpose. So this entire exercise was very useful for me and the public, I think, as a source of information and clarity. And it would have been useful if I had to pay a $150 fine, too. So I’m glad this happened.
Now, very briefly, let’s get to the core of what this was about — Wes Bridges’ future with the Polk School Board and the ticking clock that affects that future.
Here’s the bottom line: I ran on removing Wes. I won big. Wes resigned. Then he unresigned. I still consider him resigned. But that’s not really a legal issue worth fighting. It’s much easier to simply not renew his contract. As I read his contract, we have to do that before January 1 or it renews for another year. Its term would run until some time in March.
I have no idea if I have four votes to non-renew Wes’ contract. But I’m comfortable with that. Because I’m comfortable with my position, and I plan to advocate for it. I’m never afraid to lose.
The Polk School Board only has one day of meetings set between now and January 1. That’s one week from today, Dec. 13. I want to force a discussion and vote on Wes Bridges’ future. I want that discussion on some agenda somewhere. As of right now, early Tuesday morning, it is not on any agenda.
But that is not necessarily as big a deal as I originally thought. It’s quite clear to me now that I can force that discussion and vote simply by raising the issue during my portion of the School Member reports in the regular School Board meeting. The Florida School Board Association, in its new board member training session, made it sound like raising such an issue without placing it on the agenda is a major problem subject to legal consequences for the vote itself. That’s wrong, from everything I can see. Indeed, the Sunshine Law does not even require meeting agendas at all, to my reading.
However, forcing me to raise the Bridges’ issue at the end of a long day of meetings would be meeting malpractice, in my view. I believe we should discuss it first among new business items at the regular meeting that begins at 5. And we should hear from the public, if the public wants to speak.
I should note that Wes has asked for a meeting with me. And I am always willing to meet with anyone. So we’re meeting Wednesday evening. I’ve said just about everything I need to say publicly about this situation. (I’ll have a little more and a recap later in the week.) So I mostly plan to listen. I see no circumstance that would change my mind or perceptions; but, again, I’m happy to listen.
So that’s where we stand — and why this has gone down this way — in a quick nutshell. Thanks for paying attention. More to come.