JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Duval County School Board will keep fighting for a special election regarding a half-cent sales tax to repair aging schools.
This decision comes after the school board voted 6-1 to hire outside legal counsel.
On Wednesday, the board met after the City Council voted to withdraw the board's request for a special election on the half-cent sales tax.
During the meeting, a school board member said: “it's time for the board to put their big pants on.”
"The goal is to get this on the referendum,” Attorney Scott Cairns said. He is a part of the group of attorneys hired to accomplish that goal.
The school board's legal advisor said hiring an outside attorney could be invalid. Since it is under the city charter, the city's office of general counsel represents the school board.
"The office of general counsel has expressed its view that it is the only counsel for the school board, we disagree in that situation," Cairns said.
Cairns said the group is assessing its options. School board chairwoman Lori Hershey feels they have no other choice.
"The question we continue to ask is when will the voters be able to decide?" she said. "We feel the only way to answer that question is taking the action we did today."
The school board would pay $160 per hour for legal fees to their team, the same they would pay for the Office of General Counsel.
In response to the decision, Brian Hughes, chief administrative officer for the city said, “it's sad that the school board is choosing litigation instead of collaborating with city officials so that the right program goes to the voters in 2020.”
The school board's attorneys say litigation is an option.
Chairwoman Hershey thinks the time to make the decision to fix Duval County schools is now.
"To answer the question, ‘is this the only way to settle the score?’ My answer and my opinion is yes," Hershey said.
Following the board's decision, General Counsel’s Jason Gabriel sent a memo to the school board saying their actions violate the City Charter and Ordinance Code.
Gabriel wrote that such action requires coordination and approval by his office.
He also added that any fees or expenses paid would be unauthorized spending of public funds.
Gabriel requests the board immediately cease and desist from any further engagement with outside counsel and that all actions taken be retracted on the record.
"I would respectfully urge that the School Board and the City Council attempt to resolve this matter amicably," Gabriel said.
In response to the letter, Hershey said Gabriel made a regarding personal liability.
Henry Coxe, a member of the legal team, responded to Hershey's comments and said they reviewed Gabriel's memo "which included a threat to you and your fellow school board members."
Coxe wrote there will be no expense to the Duval County School Board in order to eliminate any individual liability to the board.