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Faliero is back, says she never really left

By Ernest Hooper, Lunch with Ernest
Published October 19, 2007


In her latest Top 10 hit, Big Girls Don't Cry, pop star Fergie sings of finding peace and clarity.

It's a song that resonates with School Board member Jennifer Faliero.

Faliero raised the ire of some of her East Hillsborough constituents by moving to Davis Islands this summer after going through a divorce from her longtime husband. She drew more attention after a heated exchange between her and fellow board member April Griffin at a team-building workshop.

Now that she has moved back to Valrico and enrolled her kids in area schools, I sat down with Faliero at the Westfield Panera Bread to talk to her about the moving controversy, school superintendent MaryEllen Elia and her relationship with Griffin.

Pull up a chair and join us.


ERNEST: You're back.

JENNIFER: I've always been back.


Were you surprised by the negative reaction to your moving to Davis Islands?

Yes. I could have gone to Europe for two months and taken a vacation, which we're entitled to do. I could have taken a leave of absence, which is basically what I did. I was actually supposed to go to Europe and stay with a girlfriend of mine. She was paying for it and had a home. But that didn't work out, so I did something else. I don't regret it. I've come back with that peace and clarity and vision, and I have a lot of work to do.


So what doesn't kill you will make you stronger, right?

You bet. I feel that I'm a much stronger person now. I had a lot of things I had to go through that I had never been through before that will prepare me for whatever I need to do. Becoming School Board chairman in November is something I'm scheduled to do, although you must be elected by your board members to do that. That's not something I'm taking for granted, but it's something I am preparing for and look forward to doing if the other board members extend that role to me.One of the criticisms I've heard is that board members aren't critical enough of superintendent MaryEllen Elia. What do you think of that criticism?

There's a way to criticize people, and there's a way to take personal shots at someone. I prefer to criticize the superintendent behind closed doors. I don't think criticizing her or taking personal shots at her is appropriate in front of a television camera. A lot of things are said or done in one-on-one meetings or in workshops. I would assure you that there is a lot of criticism and that MaryEllen is taking her fair share privately, as well as the shots she's taken publicly.

If you were doing a team-building exercise and April Griffin had to fall blindly into your arms, would you catch her?

Absolutely. I actually like April. April and I have a lot of similarities. We're both strong-willed. We both have strong opinions. We both have kids still in school. There's more in common than we differ on. She and I actually get along well; we just have very strong opinions. I'm hoping that she and I will be able to work together on some issues. I know some of her concerns, and she and I are on the same page.

We've had a problem regarding bus transportation and kids getting to school on time here in East Hillsborough. Do you think you'll be able to resolve the problem?

Absolutely. To expedite matters or maybe to give the person in charge more leeway to do his job, we made a motion to allow him, John Franklin, to do whatever is necessary to get those buses on time. There are several measures that have been put into place that I think will address the lateness.

What can you do to get more drivers?

That's a great question. One of the things John Franklin is doing is he's going to the colleges and he's recruiting grad students who need the money. We will train them. He's going to retired people, especially police officers, former military. He's going to people who have that background, who want to work and have a retirement so they're not in it for the money. We need to get the word out there that you come drive for us and we can pay your medical insurance.


A lot of your private business became public only because you're an elected official. Given some of the scrutiny you've had to endure, do you wonder sometimes if being on the School Board has been worth it?

Everyone has their crosses to bear. The difference between being a public official and running a company is that your life is going to be written about no matter what you do. That's the downside to public office. It never occurred to me to resign my job because of this because I love what I do. I see it as just like everyone else, going through hard times. Mine just became public. Do I like it? No. But it comes with the territory, and I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to stay in public office.

DESSERT: A postscript from Ernest

Although Faliero has moved back, her critics remain. After my initial column about her move, a number of people wrote to say I needed to be more critical. Others felt that her personal life shouldn't have become public fodder. The truth lies in between. I'm just happy she delivered on her promise to move back. Faliero may never win over all her naysayers, but if she does so, I know it will be on her terms.

[Last modified October 18, 2007, 19:45:10]

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