Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Letter From the Attorney General

Gentle Readers: I wrote to the AG and asked for him to render an opinion on the secrecy of the Hillsborough County Board on such things as the names of candidates for jobs such as the principals that La Gaceta cited in this week's paper. I believe that there should be a hyperlink to candiates' credentials so that citizens have the chance to review applicants' backgrounds. Then they could judge whether Ms. Elia's choices made in secret hired the best people.

I cite as examples of crooked hires Connie Mileto because she was a favorite of Dr. Hamilton, not because she had the credentials for the job: she had neither suitable degree nor needed experience (she had been a kindergarten teacher).

I know Kipley's husband's getting the job in accounting was pure stealing of a job that should have gone to one of the four people with required accounting degrees and experience who applied (I examined the applications.)

Ms. Kipley's husband got the job because Kipley had lied to back up Ms. Elia's lies in using the Professional Standards division as vector against teachers whom she wanted to fire or throw into a state of anxiety because of the terror of the loss of their jobs. This is situation in the current case of Steve Kemp, whom she framed because he has a blog, and the board and administration hates blogs because they might publish some truth about the administration and board instead of the sanitized stuff that comes through the Community Affairs division.

This cruel behavior by the superintendent is vicious behavior that smacks of sadism. And the board sits with a glaze on its eyes and pretends that it knows nothing. It doesn't care what Ms. Elia does to teachers. Board members make sentimental noises about teachers for political posturing, but that is just political bilge.

I sent Steve Kemp to April Griffin for her help with his semester-long suspension for a cooked-up child-abuse charge that the sheriff threw out. Ms. Griffin did nothing public or discernible after the meeting to help Steve. At that meeting, she had told Steve not to say they met or report what they said. She made it seem shameful to meet with a teacher and be concerned with teachers' mistreatment.

After this fruitless meeting, Ms. Griffin apparently returned to her conversion regimen to become another board member who rubber stamps Ms. Elia's ukases.

What a disappointment Griffin is. When Kurdell and Olson jumped on her for asking that an item on the Consent Agenda that involved a no-bid contract to a former administrator be pulled for open discussion and Kurdell and Olson called her "disloyal" to the staff, Griffin should have shot back, "My first loyalty goes to the citizens as yours should." Instead, it made her wilt and give up doing anything bold or brave for the good of the schools and the welfare of citizens who pay the bills.

This lack of open government is what we need to emphasize in sending news out about the board and administration. Elections should include questions to the candidates about what they have done as incumbents or what they will do if new candidates to make sure citizens see what the school board is deciding and how its members do the deciding. They need to pledge that they will open the decision making to citizens and have an open government and not conduct the business of the schools behind closed doors.

We live in a democracy. We also live in a state that stresses the sunshine law. The School Board of Hillsborough County should not act as if its members and administration are exempt from this form of government and this state law.

Knowledge is power. Those who hoard knowledge hoard power. It is a trait that does not mark the open, responsible public servant.


This is the AG's seal. I have a new computer and can't figure out how to copy it. ldd



PL 01 The Capitol Tallahassee, Florida 32399-1050 Telephone (850) 245-0158

Fax (850) 922-3969

Mr. Lee De Cesare

15316 Gulf Boulevard 802 Madeira Beach, Florida 33708

The Office of Attorney General Bill McCollum has received your letter requesting this office issue an opinion regarding the actions of the Hillsborough County School Board in selecting principals under the Government in the Sunshine Law, section 286.011, Florida Statutes.

Regrettably the authority of the Attorney General to issue opinions is prescribed by law and is limited to public officials on questions relating to their own official duties under state law. This precludes this office from issuing opinions to private individuals or to public officials inquiring about the duties of another public official. I would note, however, that the Attorney General's Office is a strong supporter of the open government laws of this state and has urged greater transparency by governmental entities.

I am enclosing a section of the Government in the Sunshine Manual (which is prepared by the Attorney General's Office and printed by the First Amendment Foundation) discussing the importance of public participation in governmental meetings. An abridged edition of the manual is available online at: You may access the Attorney General Opinions referenced therein online at:

I would also note that while the agenda may not be published until shortly before the meeting, you may be able to obtain the information regarding the superintendent's recommendations prior to that time under the Public Records Law, Chapter 119, Florida Statutes. Section 119.011 (12), F.S., defines "public records" to include:

all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, data processing software, or other material, regardless of the physical form, characteristics, or means of transmission, made or

Mr. Lee De Cesare May 15, 2009 Page Two

received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency.

As discussed in the manual, the Florida Supreme Court has interpreted this definition to encompass all materials made or received by an agency in connection with official business which are used to perpetuate, communicate or formalize knowledge. See Shevin v. Byron, Harless, Schaffer, Reid and Associates, Inc., 379 So. 2d 633, 640 (Fla. 1980). All such materials, regardless of whether they are in final form, are open for public inspection unless the Legislature has exempted them from disclosure. Wait v. Florida Power & Light Company, 372 So. 2d 420 (Fla. 1979).



Assistant Attorney General

No comments: