Will Gov. Rick Scott get it right when selecting a replacement for Lew Williams on the Pinellas School Board?

By on January 2, 2012

As of last Friday, eight individuals have applied to fill the deceased Lew Williams’ seat on the Pinellas School Board.  But even with that many candidates to chose from, that doesn’t mean Gov. Rick Scott will get it right when selecting Williams’ replacement.

Of Florida’s 67 counties, few have been as difficult for Rick Scott to make inroads than Pinellas, a bastion of moderate Republicans, urban liberals and, of course, Charlie Crist acolytes.  A prominent local lobbyist approached by a staffer in Gov. Scott’s appointments office says they were asked for advice because, as the staffer admitted. Scott’s office doesn’t “have no clue what’s going on down there.”

That, so much, is obvious.

Scott delayed, then mishandled, making appointments to the St. Petersburg College Board of Trustees, allowing four of the five trustees who govern SPC to remain in their posts even though their terms have expired.

Asked to explain the delay, Gov. Scott’s press secretary Lane Wright explained, “When it comes to appointments, the governor has a lot on his plate.”

Yet, even after Scott made his choices for the SPC Board of Trustees, it was apparent, he has no clue what’s going on in Pinellas. Keeping Deveron Gibbons on the Board, while not reappointing Evelyn Bilirakis was a gross injustice.

Replacing Williams, who passed away in December, is Rick Scott’s first opportunity to show that he’s learned something – anything – about Pinellas politics, while also demonstrating he’s not tone deaf to racial sensitivities at a time when Scott is coming under fire for his handling of the controversy surrounding the hazing death of a FAMU student.

Williams was the lone African American voice on the Pinellas County School Board, which, for decades, presided over a school system beset by desegregation and racial challenges.

Williams’ voice is now silent, but the community he represented is yearning to be heard, now as much as ever.  Williams replaced Mary Brown, who was the first black person to be elected to the board.

“To not have an African-American on the board is not a good idea,” Pinellas School Board member Janet Clark said. The community should “have faith that the board is representative of them.”

As Ron Matus reported, the seat encompasses the southernmost part of Pinellas County, where a majority of the students in 33 schools come from low-income homes and where four high schools are under state oversight due to poor student achievement. Black students make up 19 percent of the district’s student population.

“I would hope that Rick Scott has the political savvy to be advised of all these nuances,” Clark continued. But “I don’t know that he’s aware of all these things.”

Of the eight candidates who have applied, several candidates stand out, including Glen Glitzen, director of an educational nonprofit called Educate Today, who lists Sen. Jack Latvala and Gov. Scott’s general counsel Michael Sevi as references.

The other candidates include:

Jim Jackson, 67, of St. Petersburg, a retired Miami-Dade College professor who ran for the seat against Williams last year;

Cassandra Jackson, 52, of St. Petersburg, a paraprofessional at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School;

Richard “Dick” Kane;

Sean O’Flannery, 43, of St. Petersburg, a Lakewood High teacher who ran for school board in 2006;

Gerald “Jerry” Spilantro;

Michael-Christopher Tauchnitz, 43, of Oldsmar, a software engineer with Verifone;

Myrtle Williams, 67, of St. Petersburg, a retired associate provost with St. Petersburg College.

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