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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Griffin's decision keeps school board in balance

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April Griffin ended her campaign Friday for a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission, and that's too bad. She would have been a formidable candidate and an effective commissioner.

But you know who is probably most disappointed over this development?

My money is on schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

She was so close to being rid of her most persistent thorn on the school board, and now that dream is in tatters. Griffin will stay in her role as board chairwoman and will continue to push back against the superintendent on multiple issues.

v vThe friction between those two isn't exactly a secret. It bubbled over at a recent board meeting when Elia and attorney Thomas Gonzalez were caught on a hot mic complaining about Griffin and board member Susan Valdes. Their crime, in Elia's view, was allowing too many critical comments from the public at board meetings.

"... all I've got is people beating us up," Elia grumped, after agreeing with Gonzalez's conspiracy theory that Griffin and Valdes are "both in on it."

Griffin asked Elia for an apology at the next meeting.

She didn't receive it.

"She doesn't want to handle this like an adult," Griffin said Friday. "She wants me to sit down and shut up. That's not going to happen.

"She says things that are very hurtful to the public. She is trying to control the board. She is trying to control the public. But she can't control her own staff."

v vThe board was widely seen as Elia's rubber stamp until Griffin and Valdes took their seats a few years ago and began asking uncomfortable questions. The questions have been plentiful, starting with the death of two special-needs students last year in separate incidents.

Griffin said those and other issues took priority over seeking a seat on the commission. Although Griffin and Elia acknowledge they have tried to work on their personal differences, they have a long way to go. With that in mind, I asked Griffin how difficult it will be going forward to work with Elia.

"I can work effectively with anybody because I'm always going to be respectful," she said. "She needs to learn when to stop fighting. She is a very talented woman with a lot of positives, but she needs to get some of those deficits under control.

"She was turning the public into villains. The public is not the enemy. Do I agree with everything the public says? No, I don't. But sometimes they do have good points and we need to listen."

v vKeeping Griffin on the school board means a healthy check and balance remains. The rest of it is just chatter for TMZ.

"In all honesty, I know they don't like me," Griffin said. "I don't care. I know they talk about me at parties. I don't care."

Nor should she. She is supposed to ask tough questions. If the superintendent and her staff have to swallow hard and continue to work with a skeptical board to make things better, the students benefit.

Nothing else matters.

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