This story was updated on Jan. 24 with a correction on the Oct. 26 vote.
The Flagler County School Board fired Attorney Kristy Gavin 17 months before her contract was due to expire.
The law firm of Shutts and Bowen prepared a termination letter which Board Chair Will Furry signed and delivered to Gavin on Monday, Jan. 22.
Gavin has been the Board’s attorney since 2006. She had planned to retire when her contract was scheduled to end on June 30, 2025.
Gavin’s contract states that she “shall be subject to discharge only for just cause.” The contract defined just cause “as dereliction of duty, failure to report to work, misconduct in office or violation of criminal law.”
School Board members Cheryl Massaro and Colleen Conklin said the letter did not include just cause.
At the board’s information workshop on Jan. 23, Conklin asked Furry, “I know we executed the letter yesterday, were we advised not to include just cause?”
Attorney David Delaney, who is serving the board in an interim capacity, advised board members not to discuss the termination letter.
“On the particular topic, given the issues surrounding it, I would proceed with caution. Anything on the record could be problematic down the road,” he said.
Furry said that was the same advice he received from Shutts and Bowen. But he added there was just cause in the letter. “They (Shutts and Bowen attorneys) helped prepare that with me.”
Shutts and Bowen prepared the letter with cause.”
— WILL FURRY, School Board chair
After the workshop, Furry reiterated to the Observer that “Shutts and Bowen prepared the letter with cause.”
The board voted on Oct. 26 to terminate Gavin's contract after 60 days to give Superintendent LaShakia Moore, and initially Furry, time to reach an agreement with Gavin on a mutual separation or a reassignment of duties to the district. The deadline passed with no agreement. Furry was the only board member to vote against the motion, which was made by Conklin. Christy Chong, Sally Hunt and Furry had previously made it known that they were in favor of firing Gavin.
The board elected to hire Weiss Serota of Gainesville on an interim basis at a cost of $300 an hour for legal services. Delaney is a partner with the firm, and he is the firm’s chair of the Education Practice Group.
DeLaney advised the board by phone at the workshop but attended the board’s evening business meeting in person.
The board unanimously approved the hiring of Weiss and Serota at the Jan. 23 evening meeting under New Business.
Delaney said his firm has not decided if it will apply to become the Board’s permanent legal counsel.
“We’ll figure that out,” he said after the business meeting. “We want to give the board an opportunity to get to know me and how I work.”
Two other firms have provided letters of interest to become the board's permanent legal advisor.
Weiss and Serota currently advises School Boards in Alachua, Levy, Hernando and Collier counties, Delaney said. The issue, he said, is being available on Tuesdays, when other School Boards are also having their meetings.
While Delaney will be advising the board, the School District opted to contract with the firm of Sniffen and Spellman, which is already under contract to provide the district with services related to union bargaining. The Board unanimously agreed to an addendum to that contract to provide legal counsel “in various matters as may be necessary to assist the Superintendent and District personnel from time to time.”
At the workshop, Massaro said she believed the board was violating its policy by hiring law firms to advise the board and Superintendent LaShakia Moore.
Policy 213 states: “The School Board shall be authorized to obtain an attorney, from outside its own membership, who shall act as legal adviser to the Board and the Superintendent.”
But after reviewing the policy, Delaney told the board at the business meeting that he believed they were not violating policy.
Conklin said that after a period of time, board members should go over the legal fees paid to the School Board attorneys and the fees paid to the district’s legal counsel and decide if they want to continue in that direction on a permanent basis or go back to one attorney or one law firm for both the district and the board.