It was clear at a Dec. 14 information workshop that School Board Chair Trevor Tucker would supply the tie-breaking vote on whether to extend board attorney Kristy Gavin’s contract.
Later, at the board’s monthly meeting, Tucker voted in favor of renewing the contract, breaking a 2-2 deadlock among the other board members.
“I think Kristy is doing a good job, but there is a problem because of a lack of trust among board members,” Tucker said at the afternoon workshop. “The question is, can she do her job with a lack of trust?”
Tucker provided the answer after an extensive debate that began at the workshop and continued into the board meeting after the item was added to the agenda.
“The chair votes aye. She will continue,” Tucker said.
Gavin’s contract will be renewed for three more years.
The item was rushed onto the agenda after board member Jill Woolbright noted at the Dec. 7 agenda workshop, and then brought up again at the Dec. 14 workshop, that the board was required to inform Gavin of its intention six months before the contract’s expiration. That meant it had to be decided at the December board meeting.
Woolbright and Janet McDonald were not in favor of retaining Gavin, who has been the School Board’s legal advisor for 18 years. Colleen Conklin and Cheryl Massaro supported Gavin.
Woolbright and McDonald brought up several complaints. Two of the major ones referenced the Aug. 17 board meeting when Gavin, acting as sergeant-at-arms, had deputies clear the room during an unruly public comment session. Woolbright and McDonald said at that point the meeting was not out of control.
“The crowd got really angry, because they felt they were unjustly removed,” Woolbright said.
After the August meeting resumed, board member Colleen Conklin made what she called three emergency motions involving mask mandates, only two of which were allowed under the governor’s executive order at the time. McDonald and Woolbright said they were blindsided by the motions and blamed Gavin for not informing them ahead of time.
“I’ve never put my personal needs ahead of this board or this district. I’ve done my job, my contractual responsibilities, to the best of my abilities.”
At the Dec. 14 workshop, Conklin said Gavin had nothing to do with the mandate motions, all of which were defeated. As for Gavin’s decision to clear the room, Conklin said the meeting at the time “was not calm by any stretch of the imagination.”
At the workshop, Gavin defended her job performance. She said after the August meeting she and Tucker “clarified things” with Tucker taking over the role of sergeant at arms and Gavin providing guidance.
As for Conklin’s emergency motions, Gavin said the video of the meeting shows she cautioned the board prior to taking action.
“I cannot direct you, only provide my counsel and advice,” she said.
“I’ve never put my personal needs ahead of this board or this district,” Gavin added. “I’ve done my job, my contractual responsibilities, to the best of my abilities.”
Massaro said she doesn’t believe the general public understands all of the responsibilities the school board's attorney has.
"Her job is to keep Flagler County Schools out of legal trouble,” she said.
McDonald said she has heard requests from members of the community and employees of the school district “to find different counsel.”
Woolbright gave Gavin a positive review just four months ago, but she said since then there have been “seven or eight instances” when she didn’t feel represented as a board member and also said she has heard from “community leaders, parents, teachers and staff and district staff who do not have confidence in our attorney.”
“Ms. Gavin, I will work with you this year and we will rebuild our trust together.”
However, after the board voted to extend the contract, Woolbright handed Gavin an olive branch.
“Ms. Gavin, I will work with you this year and we will rebuild our trust together,” she said.
Michael Arnold, who filed a complaint against Gavin, spoke during public comments before both the workshop and the board meeting, claiming Gavin had mismanaged safeguards with his daughter and threatened “class actions” against the board if Gavin remained in her position.
“I wouldn’t take me lightly,” he said. “I’ve never lost in a courtroom.”
Tucker suggested at the workshop that the board establish a procedure on how it handles complaints going forward against the board’s attorney or the school superintendent. He said if the board decides the complaint is valid and documented, it can hire outside counsel to investigate.