Published: Aug 10, 2010 12:31 AM EDT
Updated: Aug 09, 2010 9:31 PM EDT

NAPLES, Fla. - When it comes to haggling over Superintendent Dennis Thompson's contract, the Collier County School Board wants its interests protected.

The board is calling a special meeting before Thompson's evaluation begins Thursday to finalize a contract with their personal board attorney.

The issue came up during last week's Collier County School Board meeting.

Board member Pat Carroll brought up the School Board's contract with the Naples-based law firm of Stanco, Robinson and Pendley. The School Board agreed to hire the firm in June as the board's personal attorney.

Carroll said she wanted to go into the superintendent's evaluation and contract talks with a board attorney in place, and that means a finalized contract with Stanco, Robinson and Pendley.

"I expected to see a contract at this meeting so we could have it finalized before we went into the superintendent's contract evaluation," she said. "It is a critical time."

But there were delays in finalizing the contract.

Deputy Administrative Officer Allun Hamblett said those delays came about as a result of another attorney joining the firm and the time it took to check credentials of those representing the board.

"I am satisfied that everything is OK at this point in time," he said.

Hamblett and Kevin Pendley said a draft of a contract could be done before the board's evaluation of Thompson, which will be held Thursday, Aug. 12.

The terms of the requirements for the contract were very specific as far as hourly rates and things of that nature, Pendley said.

But one board member didn't see the need to rush.

"I am going to ask the question that is begging to be asked. 'Why? Why do we need a contract done by that date?'" board member Steve Donovan asked.

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo told Donovan that Carroll had explained that she would feel more comfortable if the board has counsel present during the evaluation of Thompson.

But Donovan argued that the Collier County School Board didn't have an attorney in place during other negotiations.

"We used our district counsel during that time," he said.

Donovan said the district has never had its own attorney during previous contract talks, relying on the district counsel. The superintendent, he said, also did the same.

Curatolo argued that the district's arrangement with the attorney is different than it was several years ago.

"Let's just call this what it is then you want to set up opposing counsel," Donovan said.

District attorney Jon Fishbane interjected, reminding Collier County School Board members that he represented the Collier County School District.

"I am not Dr. Thompson's personal attorney," he said. "I am the district's counsel."

The district put out a request for proposals late last year for outside legal services for the School Board after board members decided they needed their own counsel for some issues when Fishbane might have a conflict because he also would be representing Thompson and the district.

Board members asked School Board Vice Chairwoman Julie Sprague, staff and Pendley to draft a contract for approval during a special meeting of the board at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12.

Pendley agreed to create a working document to begin the process, which was forwarded to the district on Aug. 4. Sprague and staff are working on a final document, which will be provided to the board to review on Thursday. Once the final draft is available, it will be available for review by the board and the public. As of Friday, the document hadn't been made public.

Donovan said Friday that he understands Carroll's concerns that the evaluation and contract talks could be contentious, but he is still wary of approving a contract next week.

"The board has not set up a clear policy on who and when we can use the new School Board attorney," he said. "We don't have a policy or procedures in place. Those questions are not answered and, every time we use them, it will cost us money. I am frustrated over the whole scenario."

Thompson's evaluation begins at 3 p.m. Thursday in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail.