TAMPA — Attorney Jim Porter got a good feel last week for what his new gig representing the school board of the eighth-largest school district in the country will be like.
Porter had his first meeting as Hillsborough County School Board attorney Tuesday, followed by a nearly three-hour workshop about school district policies.
“I thought it went really well,” he said. “I tried to sit back and listen and, when it was appropriate, interject.”
The board officially hired 49-year-old Porter, who works for local law firm Adams and Reese, on Oct. 22. He previously spent 14 years working for the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office. For the time being, Porter will make $8,000 a month as the school board’s attorney.
The position previously was held by Tom Gonzalez, who announced in April 2012 that he wanted to only represent the school district.
The Tribune caught up with Porter on Thursday for a question-and-answer session:
Q: Where are you from?
A: I’m originally from a tiny town in Ohio called Shady Side. It’s got 5,000 people. I am a product of public schools. I went to law school at Emory in Atlanta. I moved down here in 1989.
Q: How is the job going after your first day of board meetings?
A: The board is getting used to me and I’m getting used to the way they like to do things. It’s such a huge organization. There’s so many pieces to it. It’s been fascinating and fun for me. My first priority is to get to know them, find out what they’re expecting from me. I also want to get to know all the staff. I’ve got meetings scheduled with all the board members.
Q: Have you represented school boards before?
A: I represented the school board for the last eight or so years in different matters, mainly dealing with land use and real estate issues. I was on their approved vendor list to do work for them. That was one of the things that set me apart from the other candidates.
Q: Why did you decide to apply for this job?
A: I didn’t apply the first time. The first time the (job posting) came out, they were focusing on someone who was a real expert in school law. My background is local government. It seemed they were looking for someone with the ability to deal with local government issues, government in the sunshine, public records. That is my background. That’s the kind of stuff that gets me really excited about my job. I love the idea of public service and it seemed like I could offer something to them. I put my name in the ring and got the job.
Q: Have you visited any district schools since you came on board?
A: I was at Middleton yesterday. One of the things I do extracurricular-wise is Leadership Tampa. I’m vice chair and will be chair of the class next year. I got to meet the assistant principal for the magnet school and some of the students. I enjoyed that. We have a very strong school district. I think the more I get to do that, the more it enhances my ability to be a good attorney for them.
Q: What are your goals for the job?
A: I just really want to give them excellent service. I want to establish the kind of trust you need to have in order to have them value your advice. My immediate goal is to establish trust with all of them, have them understand I’m going to be their advocate and attorney.