MANATEE COUNTY — David Miner acknowledges it’s easier being a watchdog from the outside.
But, after Miner, the self-appointed “watchdog” who has been a staple at school board meetings for 12 years, finally accepted his seat on the dais as the Manatee County School Board District 2 representative, he vowed to continue fighting.
The 66-year-old Bradenton attorney and longtime Manatee County fixture, who once applied for the superintendent position, sued the district and failed in two previous bids to join the board, said his Nov. 6 election confirms the public’s plea for openness and accountability.
“This is a good feeling,” Miner said. “But this isn’t a radical change in my lifestyle. The only change is that I have a vote in helping the district go in a direction that everybody agrees is best. That is, having an open government that can engender trust. This is validation for what I’ve been saying for a longtime.”
At the Nov. 20 board reorganization meeting, Miner showed the same tenacity and willingness to disagree as he did during all those years of public comment — times where he pushed for transparency, prompting the district to post copies of its checks online and its agendas before meetings.
Former Superintendent Tim McGonegal resigned in September after announcing a $3.4 million budget deficit that administrators missed.
Miner spoke slowly in a hushed tone as his eyes darted across the room to where his wife and daughter sat, as he questioned the costs and benefits of the various committees on which school board members serve.
Fellow board member Bob Gause, who was re-elected to his third four-year term Nov. 6, defended the committees when he said they help him to understand unfamiliar programs, such as the Manatee Technical Institute, and push forward familiar ones, such as the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce.
Gause nodded toward Miner as he explained his position and said, “A good debate is always worth having.”
New board Chairwoman Karen Carpenter assigned Miner the task of looking into legal counsel options in light of School Board Attorney John Bowen’s June retirement.
Miner refused to hold back his opinion on that matter. He prefers separate counsels for the School Board and the superintendent, rather than one shared attorney.
Carpenter, who, along with new board Vice Chairwoman Julie Aranibar, often questioned McGonegal’s budget proposals, hopes Miner sticks to his fiery demeanor.
“We are bringing the watchdog inside, but I don’t want him to lose his vigilance,” Carpenter said. “He has been treated like an outsider, as I was during my first year on the board. I wasn’t treated well because I didn’t fit in with the crowd. But I’m glad that Dave (Miner) and I are on the same side. We’re trying to transform the system.”
Harry Kinnan, the former four-term board chairman who retired this month, said the dynamics change on the dais.
“Once you get on the board, now you are part of a team,” Kinnan said. “I’m confident (Miner) understands that it is all about teamwork, despite whatever issues he brought up in the past.”
For his part, Miner hinted at toning down his antics while staying true to his beliefs. However, he still wants to remove high-stakes standardized testing such as the FCATs, a method with which he’s always disagreed.
He compares his new inside role to the difference between being a prosecutor, which Miner was during his 38-year law career, and a judge.
“Most people who went to the polls realize there are different roles,” Miner said. “A citizen coming up and speaking for three minutes is a lot different from someone who is sitting in a chair for this school board. I will continue to be an advocate, but it’s a whole different thing now.”
Still, the watchdog bites.
“It’s too bad that people are now coming around to my attitude as a result of this train wreck,” Miner said. “But we are turning the corner under David (Gayler, interim superintendent) and moving toward a open government. There is no alternative.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].