LAKELAND, Fla. — A lack of gubernatorial appointments is causing confusion for at least one Polk County coalition that gets state funds.
- Early Learning Coalition board removes Katrina Lunsford as chair
- Board says her term has exceeded what's allowed by state statute
- But Lunsford says she's still chair until governor removes her
- Lunsford questions timing, says she inquired about financial report
The Early Learning Coalition of Polk County is responsible for making sure state and federal funds are delivered to child-care providers for their school readiness and volunteer prekindergarten or VPK services and has a $36 million annual budget.
During the coalition's meeting this past Wednesday, Katrina Lunsford expressed discontent with how the board removed her as chair.
"In spite of this local board's action, according to the state, I’m still chair until the governor moves me," said Lunsford during public comments.
While she was chair, Lunsford requested that the coalition have an attorney revise its bylaws. In the process, the board realized that Lunsford had been serving on the board for longer than two consecutive four-year terms, which is what state statute allows.
The board voted to follow statute, sending an email to Lunsford notifying her she was no longer chair.
"As an officer of the court, I cannot knowingly be in violation of state statute. We had an attorney come in and tell us we were in violation of state statute," said Benjamin LeFrancois, a private-sector board member who is an attorney with GrayRobinson Attorneys at Law.
Board member Dr. Elaine Thompson, the CEO of Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, agreed with LeFrancois.
Lunsford was appointed to her chair position in August 2018 by former Gov. Rick Scott. While she initially joined the board as a private-sector member in 2011, the term for her gubernatorial appointment ends in 2021.
She thinks she should stay in the position until Gov. Ron DeSantis appoints someone else.
"In my position, it needs to be reevaluated as to what my term was. ... Why would you do what you just did, saying you're following statute, when really around the state, you stay in your seat until another appointment occurs?" asked Lunsford after the meeting.
The other board member, Bill Dorman, who had served a year past his term limit, resigned.
While several board members stressed they approved removing Lunsford from the chair position simply because they wanted to follow state statute, Lunsford said she found the timing questionable. It came a few months after she reached out to the Inspector General's Office of Early Learning to look into issues mentioned in the board's 2018-2019 Financial Monitoring Report. The reports cited issues with improper documentation of matching funds and missing required state and federal data on contracts.
"My ultimate goal would be that there be some type of statutory requirement, if you're going to oversee as a volunteer this type of money, that training is mandated by the state that you go to as a board member," Lunsford said.
The contract for the coalition’s CEO, Marc Hutek, is also up for renewal in August. The renewal of his contract was on the agenda for the Wednesday meeting. Board members said they needed more time to evaluate it, and tabled the discussion until August, after they were able to complete his evaluation.
The coalition approved another member to serve as its acting chair as it waits for DeSantis to appoint the next chair.
Interested parties can apply for the position on the state's website at https://www.flgov.com/gubernatorial-appointment/.