Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
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School Board gavel passes from Griffiths to Martin

School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths is no more.

Instead, it was Chairman Ron Martin who banged the gavel at Tuesday's School Board meeting in Key West, as District 1 board member Griffiths took his new place to the right of the new chair.

District 1 member Robin Smith-Martin was elected co-chair.

Though expected, the handoff was still the most notable event in an otherwise uneventful meeting, with District 4 member John Dick presenting the outgoing chairman with a certificate of appreciation from his fellow members. Superintendent Mark Porter also offered his congratulations to Griffiths, who has held the post a number of times in his nearly 18 years on the board.

Chairman Martin wasted no time adapting to his new role as the board members were selected to participate in various associated consortia, committees and councils.

Members then heard a report from Audit and Finance Committee Chair Roger McVeigh about the forthcoming health care claims audit, which he said was nearly complete. The audit of the Horace O'Bryant School construction will take longer.

The board also heard from head of Planning and Operations Patrick Lefere regarding a bus purchase proposal, and an update on upgrades to the school's Wi-Fi system. Currently, only district personnel can access the network.

The superintendent, for his part, reiterated that the district is in the process of strengthening its hand in negotiations with the United Teachers of Monroe union, which has yet to yield a settlement after 24 collaborative bargaining sessions.

"We're still awaiting an opportunity to make a handoff to Mr. Norton," Porter said, referring to labor lawyer Robert Norton, whom Porter has signaled he will once again engage as the district's head negotiator. Norton presided over the last set of negotiations, which were bruising. Porter had previously sent emails to both the union leadership and board members advising them of his intention to play hardball after talks with the union broke down last week.

"We don't know what exactly will be the outcome at this point," Porter admitted, predicting that a settlement would come by the end of the year.

Board member Ed Davidson, representing District 3, took issue with a clause in the proposal from its longtime insurance broker Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services Inc., which he said would have allowed the company to collect fees in excess of the 7 percent commission cap imposed in its bid.

"In their own words, Gallagher, who has had a uncontested monopoly for 20 years without a competitive bid, stated that they intended to collect contingency commissions and other indirect forms of formally undisclosed financial fees, which they have previously denied on camera at School Board meetings they were doing or intended to do -- which obviously wasn't true," Davidson said following the meeting.

At the district lawyer's urging, Davidson and the rest of the board then voted to strike the provision from the contract.

Following the meeting, Griffiths reflected on how quiet his first meeting as a mere member was.

"Hmmmm ... . No consent agenda items were pulled, no public speakers, and all unanimous votes," Griffiths said. "It was quite amazing for board watchers. We should have made Ron Martin chair right after he was elected."

tschmida@keysnews.com

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