Manatee County School board members Julie Aranibar and Karen Carpenter want their fellow school board members to reimburse them for more than $20,000 in legal fees stemming from a recent investigation into whether they violated public records policy.
Aranibar and Carpenter were cleared by the State Attorney's Office in January after a citizen complaint brought an investigation into whether the board leaders broke state public records law by failing to reveal text messages to a public records request.
Christine Sket, of the local advocacy group Fund Education Now!, filed a complaint with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Nov. 8 claiming Aranibar had sent district-related text messages to former school board candidate Robert Moates during a Sept. 10 board meeting.
The investigation also included school board chairwoman Karen Carpenter and Barbara Harvey, another school board member.
Aranibar is asking for $20,000 to be reimbursed for legal fees and Carpenter is asking for $700.
School Board attorney John Bowen wrote a March 20 memo to board members and new superintendent Rick Mills that said state statutes do not back the reimbursement for legal defense in a situation involving a criminal investigation and not a civil action.
Because Aranibar and Carpenter are public figures, they would have been provided legal services by the board if they had been involved in a lawsuit, Bowen said.
But Bowen went on to cite a case law that says, “Public officials are entitled to a defense at the expense of the public in defending against unfounded allegations of official misconduct if they are performing official duties.”
The item will be included on a future board meeting agenda for fellow board members to vote on.
Aranibar and Carpenter will not vote.
“I had to be interviewed and videotaped,” Carpenter said. “I found it humiliating and embarrassing. The poor detective had to watch a video of that seven-hour board meeting. There are murderers and criminals out there and more important things that deserve their time. This did not rise out of my duties as a private person or volunteer with Take Stock in Children.”