Did Broward superintendent’s firing violate ‘Sunshine Law’? Attorney weighs in.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel | By Lisa J. Huriash | November 15, 2022

A day after the School Board fired the Broward schools superintendent, the school district’s attorney faced tough questions Tuesday over whether the late-night decision violated Florida’s public meetings law.

In a last-minute vote late Monday night, the School District voted 5-4 to terminate Broward Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright after board members expressed anger over scathing audits related to two district vendors. At issue is whether the board’s decision to fire the superintendent was done in compliance with Florida’s “Sunshine Law,” or whether the public received proper notice so that it could have a chance to participate.

In response to the School Board’s questions Tuesday, school district attorney Marylin Batista explained the law to the board members, saying that delaying a vote another week could be taken in an abundance of caution. School Board member Ryan Reiter pressed for more answers, saying he felt Batista’s response was vague.

Batista said the School Board could have a “cure” meeting, to redo the vote with notice given to the public and “cure” the possibility there was any possible violation of state law.

“There is a question in the law. The law is gray,” Batista said.

“If you want to take the risk you can,” Batista told them of the possibility of a lawsuit.

The School Board didn’t opt for redoing the vote in a subsequent meeting. School Board member Torey Alston said there was no violation, and the vote will not be done over.

Batista said there wasn’t enough case law for her to give a definitive answer.

On Tuesday, Board member Debbi Hixon tried to get the board to delay the vote another week, which could save Cartwright’s job. Hixon argued their policy is a seven-day notice, but the vote was hastily called Monday night. Although the meeting was publicly advertised, there was nothing on the agenda to suggest the superintendent would be fired.

Tuesday’s meeting was the the last day of service for board member Dan Foganholi, one of the board members appointed by the governor and part of majority who wants Cartwright gone. The term for three other members will end next Tuesday when new elected members are sworn in.

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