Chairman Kneessy asked for Mr. Bistline to provide some detail on our current legal services and some history over how the legal services have progressed since he began.
Mr. Bistline said that in 1990 the district had an in-house attorney who started hiring Mr. Bistline to do the litigation cases. In 1992 the Chairman asked Mr. Bistline if he was interested in applying for the in-house attorney position as the that attorney was scheduled to retire. He got the job and the department consisted of him, a paralegal and a legal secretary. However, that lasted about six months and the Board decided have an outside person. Mr.Bistline has been that person ever since.
Dr. Pace provided an overview of the some surveys from FADSS and an analysis of legal fees created by Escambia County.
Many questions were asked about the strengths and weaknesses of having an internal attorney as opposed to external counsel.
Mr. Bistline expressed that is job is to look at the interests of the Board without bias. He feels that they can have a more confidential relationship in that manner. He said that he is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
There was mention by the Board that staff says they are reluctant to call Mr. Bistline because of the charges. Dr. Blackburn was asked to build process that ensures that no one is afraid to ask Mr. Bistline a question.
Mrs. Henderson asked how long it had been since Mr. Bistline had raised his rates to which he responded, "He never has."
Mrs. Belford and Mr. Craig feel that the District needs to have internal counsel. Mr. Craig said that we need to look at the model that Volusia County uses.
Mrs. Henderson said that she sees some of the issues being discussed are process problems. She is not opposed to looking further into an internal legal department, but needs more information and will have to see some substantiated research.
Mrs. Kneessy and Mr. Ziegler commented that it is good to have someone who provides Board representation.
Mr. Ziegler said that while we don't want anyone to be afraid to contact Mr. Bistline; however, will making this so open put an unfair burden on Mr. Bistline.Mrs. Kneessy said that it would be nice to have someone internal who could provide information on the day to day things. She would like to see a hybrid of the two (internal and external) She just wants to make sure we have the processes in place no matter who it is.
Mr. Craig voiced that we absolutely should have internal legal counsel setting legal precedent throughout the district, and reviewing policy on an on-going basis.
Mrs. Belford said this definitely merits more attention and discussion. She has some concerns.
Dr. Blackburn asked if there was a timeline that the Board was considering making these decisions.
Mr. Craig said that Mr. Bistline's agreement runs out next September. He strongly challenged the Board to look at the Volusia model because he thinks it meets their needs. They have a general council full time employee, they contract out a Board attorney at an hourly rate (which gives the Board separation), and the general counsel handles all the work in house that he can and if he can't he utilizes pre-qualified law firms. Mr. Craig feels that is the model that they need to look at and it needs to be sooner rather than later.
Mrs. Henderson is not opposed to looking at this and she thinks it has merit, but wants more information.
Mr. Ziegler said that they may need to do this sooner than later. He said that we need to formulate a plan with Mr. Bistline's input.
Mrs.Kneessy said that she would like to see all of the duties of the School Board attorney and then those duties separated into what would be board attorney duties and what would be staff attorney duties. She wants Senior Staff to look at it. She feels this needs to be our next step. She would like to have that information by November 1, 2015.
Mrs. Henderson asked to have included the attorney costs for each senior staff member to see how much the divisions are using Mr. Bistline. She asked for it to go back five years.
Mrs. Kneessy said it would make a nice transition to bring in a general counsel now. She said that Mr. Bistline has done a good job, but it is hard to balance protecting the Board and protecting the District.
Dr. Blackburn said he would add this to the list and bring it back to the Board.