A report about an intense confrontation between Hillsborough County School board members April Griffin and Tamara Shamburger at a Florida School Board Association training event went viral Wednesday, prompting a potential political opponent of Griffin to describe it as “another April Griffin tantrum.”
Kelso Tanner is a political consultant who is running for the District 6 seat on the Hillsborough County School Board. Griffin has held the seat for 11 years and says she won’t decide whether she’s running for another four-year term until January.
Shamberger is a freshman on the board, having defeated Joe Robinson for the District 5 seat last year.
Griffin and Shamberger got into it Wednesday after the latter objected to the way Griffin treats newcomers to the board. Griffin acknowledges that in the past she has made a point of referring to such people as “the new board member” but says she has stopped doing that.
“Sally Harris didn’t like it … nobody likes it when you’re a new board member and you keep hearing ‘the new board member, the new board member,'” Griffin recounted Thursday morning, referring to Harris, who was elected in 2014. Griffin said that she had agreed to alter her behavior, but then added, “If we’re going to hold each other accountable for what we say at the dais – and understand it came from a place that was not meant to keep anybody down – I said then, ‘I’m going to hold you accountable for some things,” referring to what she said was Shamberger’s comment at an earlier board member about her “intent toward black males.”
Shamberger said she hadn’t recalled making such a statement, but Griffin said she had and that it was on videotape.
As described in a story by Tampa Bay Times education reporter Colleen Wright, Griffin then said, “I’m tired of everyone holding me to a higher standard.”
That prompted Kelso to say “(i)f she is tired of being held to a higher standard then it’s time for her to find another line of work. Parents, children and teachers deserve better.”
Griffin says that was only part of her comment at that moment.
“What I said was, ‘I don’t like behind held to a higher standard by people who are not willing to be held to a higher standard themselves.’”
Griffin also acknowledged that she did not know that a reporter was on the scene, saying that she had never met Wright, who covers education in Pinellas. In retrospect, Griffin says, she wouldn’t have been so outspoken before a member of the press.
In his press release, Tanner chided Griffin for making that comment.
“What she’s really saying,” Tanner said, “is that she tries to act one way when the press is around and a different way when they are not.” He then went on to say that Griffin has had problems getting along with superintendents, fellow board members and even constituents.
“It’s clear that she alone is the problem,” he charged. “If we are ever to move forward as a community, we need members who don’t require a class on listening and respect. Those traits should have been ingrained since elementary school.”
Griffin dismissed his comments.
“I’ve never seen Kelso Tanner at a board meeting. I’ve never seen him involved in any school related issue until he decided that he wanted to run for the school board so that he can take his stepping stone to whatever political office he wants to be in,” Griffin said.
“I’ve been to many school board meetings both before and after filing for office,” Tanner responded. “More than enough to see that we need mature and thoughtful leadership from that seat.”
Griffin has often been depicted as a lightning rod on the board. She had a rocky relationship with former Superintendent MaryEllen Elia and was one of four board members to vote to oust her in January of 2015, a decision that stunned much of the business and political establishment in Hillsborough County. But despite predictions that she would pay the price at the polls, she ended up decisively winning her District 6 seat in the fall of 2014.
Wednesday’s meeting, which also involved members of the Pinellas County School Board, was about learning how to become more effective through listening and respect. Both Griffin and Shamburger agree that despite their highly charged moments on Wednesday, that the day was an overall success.
“Every relationship needs that time to sit down and talk through issues and by the end of the day , and this is what I don’t think came across – and yes, there were some fireworks –but by the end of the day, there was a lot of progress that was made.”
“The escalation in communications between April and I was really about poor execution of words,” she said. “Her knowledge is long and wealthy and it’s appreciated, and I just have confidentce we’ll all be able to get over these little bumps and move on, and work together much better.”
In addition to Tanner, Wiliam Person, Jessica Vaughn, Randy Toland and Henry ‘Shake’ Washington have filed to run for the District 6 seat.