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Concern voiced over altering of Browder’s employment contract

By Staff | Dec 10, 2008

Some changes altering Superintendent James Browder’s employment contract were presented late Tuesday, forcing the Lee County School Board to make what seemed like a last-minute decision.
The board approved changes making it easier for the superintendent to interview for a second job, increase his life insurance policy by $250,000 and receive a severance package valued at $342,000.
Browder, on the other hand, said at the meeting that he plans on staying with the district for another eight to 10 years.
Approximately two pages worth of reasons for the superintendent’s termination, such as mutual agreement, retirement, disability, death or violation of law, were all removed in the new contract as well.
The new requirement allows either party to exit the contract after 60 days notice.
One member of the board was upset that he was not presented with the changes until minutes before the meeting began at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Board Member Robert Chilmonik said he received a hard copy of the new contract between 2 and 2:20 p.m., and as a result he asked for a recess to discuss it with Board Attorney Keith Martin.
Another board member, Steven Teuber, also said he had not seen the contract until the meeting began, but he had no objections because he knew what the changes would address.
“I don’t know when Jim sent this thing for cause, but I didn’t get mine until the board table,” he said. “It seemed pretty straight forward. It is a no-brainer.”
Chilmonik said the vote should have been made Tuesday at the 6 p.m. board action meeting, instead of at the last minute during an afternoon special meeting that was not televised.
“That could have been done and should’ve been done at the 6 p.m. meeting,” he said. “With such a great deal for taxpayers and the superintendent, why did they want to keep it under the radar?”
Chilmonik insists that the contract was deliberately held to avoid publicity.
“They did it early in the afternoon and in the last minute so no one could adequately prepare for it,” said Chilmonik.
There is no regulation under Florida’s Sunshine Law that every action item be posted alongside an advertised meeting, but with a decision as profound as altering the superintendent’s contract, some thought it lacked significant debate.
Board Member Jeanne Dozier said Tuesday that she would assume responsibility for submitting the changes late because she was out of town.
“It was almost like we worked on this at the last minute. I apologize for not getting it to you at a sooner time than today,” she said.
Teuber said Wednesday that the board had known about the contract changes since the organizational meeting Nov. 7 at First Community Bank of Southwest Florida. He said the motion came as no surprise to him because he spent weeks researching severance packages with local bank presidents and in his own corporate records.
Teuber also refuted Chilmonik’s assertion that the deal is a “golden parachute,” stating that the Wall Street definition includes three years worth of severance, while Browder is only getting two years.
Browder mentioned Nov. 7 that he wanted to modify his contract, but the discussion revolved around his interest in a part-time job. He explained Tuesday night that he is no longer pursuing a second job.
Minutes from the Nov. 7 organizational meeting were not available Wednesday from the district’s communication department.