Controversial contract hire fired by school board
By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — After five days on the job, the Indian River County School District’s temporary human resources director was removed from his post.
During the Dec. 14 school board meeting, the board voted 4-0 to terminate a contract with the law firm Brown, Garganese, Weiss and D’Agresta for the consultant, Stuart Singer, who served the school board as the head of human resources. The vote came after a recommendation by Superintendent Fran Adams.
School board member Matt McCain was absent from the meeting. Mr. McCain was the only school board member to vote no on Mr. Singer’s initial hire.
Superintendent Adams said the reason to terminate the contract with Mr. Singer was because he was not the right person for the job.
Members of the community, as well as a state senator, had called into question the hiring of Mr. Singer because he retired at the end of November from serving in the Osceola County School District where he was part of the Florida Retirement System’s deferred retirement option program.
By law, participants in the DROP system collect a pension after retirement and cannot be hired and paid by another organization using the Florida Retirement System for six months after the retirement date.
By hiring Mr. Singer as a consultant through the law firm of Brown, Garganese, Weiss and D’Agresta, the school board could pay the firm, who would then in turn, pay Mr. Singer. There is no state law prohibiting hire by a company not using the Florida Retirement System.
“What members of the community called into question was the legality of a person retiring (under the Florida Retirement System) and then be able to be brought on as a consultant with the school district,” Superintendent Adams said.
The rule of law is that the person cannot be an employee of, and be paid by a subsequent Florida Retirement System-using organization for six months, she said.
“Some people have strong opinions about this issue, but I wouldn’t bring anything illegal or unethical forward,” Superintendent Adams said.
Before the vote, school board member Claudia Jimenez said she was glad the issue with Mr. Singer has been resolved.
While the hiring of Mr. Singer may have been legal, his hire did not pass “the smell test,” Ms. Jimenez said.
She said this experience has taught her to ask more questions and scrutinize carefully issues with potential conflict of interests and ask for more background information.
School board member Jeff Pegler also said the decision to hire Mr. Singer was the only decision in the past two years as a school board member he “agonized over after it was made.”
Going around state law made him uneasy and revisiting the issue was in the best interest of the school district, so he was happy the superintendent brought the issue back up.
“I think this is the right thing to do at this time in this district,” Mr. Pegler said.
The goal with Mr. Singer had been to fill a very large gap in the human resources department while a national search for someone to fill the position permanently was undertaken, said Superintendent Adams.
The position, which is an assistant superintendent position, has been vacant since July.
Superintendent Adams said an ad has been placed in a national industry magazine that will be published prior to the Christmas break and she is hopeful many candidates will submit their names and resumes for consideration.
Mr. Singer was unavailable for comment at press time.
For more information about Indian River County School District matters, visit www.indianriverschools.org.