tampabay.com

Can't they all just get along and govern?

By SUE CARLTON, Times Columnist
Published September 5, 2007


The poor Hillsborough County School Board.

Its members are just jealous, I guess.

Who wouldn't be, given all the ink other governing bodies have gotten around here lately?

You've got that "breath of scandal," as a grand jury so descriptively put it in its 22-page report on Pinellas County's purchase of land owned by an ordinary citizen who just happened to be the property appraiser.

You've got the Hillsborough County Commission's blatant attempt to drop local wetlands protection, and then its frantic spin when people came out of the woodwork to protest.

Heck, you've even got the Tampa City Council, awfully quiet lately on the outrage-ometer but still having fun talking about the sale of the troubled Centro Ybor entertainment complex like it was having a cattle auction.

So I guess it's not surprising that the School Board has jumped in with its own version of how some really smelly sausage gets made around here.

Laughably, the dustup came when board members were attending a workshop that was supposed to be about team-building and visioning - "visioning" being possibly the most annoying non-word to come out of business and government in the last decade.

As backdrop, new board member April Griffin and a colleague recently cut themselves from the herd with criticisms of Hillsborough school superintendent MaryEllen Elia in Elia's evaluation.

The superintendent got good grades from rest of the gang.

At the "visioning" workshop, the message to Griffin seemed to fall somewhere between "Let's work together as a collegial group and get things done" and "Girl, you best go along to get along."

Fellow School Board member Jennifer Faliero pointedly told Griffin to take her "medicine" or risk ending up alone on votes.

"I'm not buying what you're saying," Griffin said.

"Then you need to resign," Faliero retorted.

Oh, sure. That's a reasonable reaction.

Then, to top off what was already over-the-top, Griffin walked out, slamming the door behind her and later saying she would be absent from the next round of "visioning."

Wow.

This board hasn't done something this embarrassingly off-the-wall since it executed a double-backflip on eliminating religious holidays from the school calendar - first bowing to political pressure and later adopting a perfectly sensible secular calendar.

Surely there is some middle ground here, somewhere between a board marching in total lockstep and a member gone maverick.

And by the way, what's wrong with a little dissension and discussion?

On some issues, a board member representing rural Wimauma might have different priorities than one responsible for suburban Westchase. At least you'd hope so.

So are we making decisions about kids here? Or just acting like them?

Here's something the board might want to "vision" at its next workshop, whether Griffin deigns to attend or not.

Not all press is good press. And healthy discussion over important public issues - sans temper tantrums on either side - might make for some pretty good headlines, too.