Collier school district set to choose its interim attorney for permanent position

— The Collier County School District found new legal counsel.

And district officials chose a familiar face.

The Collier County School Board is set to approve a recommendation to hire interim School Board Attorney Jon Fishbane as the full-time School Board/general counsel for the Collier County School District. The appointment will be confirmed by a School Board vote at its meeting Thursday, April 16.

“I saw it as a great opportunity to help the district,” Fishbane said Friday. “Since October, I have had the pleasure of working with terrific people in the different departments. It has been a great education for me.”

Fishbane has been acting as the interim School Board attorney after Board members and Superintendent Dennis Thompson accepted the resignation of Richard Withers, who asked to be let out of his contract to take a job in the private sector.

That request came about one week after Collier County School Board member Steve Donovan said district staff members were investigating Withers after receiving complaints.

The Collier County School Board voted in February to approve a six-page job description for the school board attorney/general counsel. The general job description calls for the attorney to “provide direct, full-time legal counsel and representation to the Superintendent, the staff and the School Board on school district matters in order to promote and protect the interests of the school district.”

Once the job description was approved, the School Board directed Allun Hamblett, executive director of human resources for the Collier County School District, to implement an immediate review/selection process for candidates.

School Board Chairwoman Pat Carroll said candidates were interviewed by a committee on Friday, April 3, and the committee recommended Fishbane.

“I am delighted,” she said. “The district will benefit from his leadership and expertise.”

Carroll was not part of the committee and asked that questions about the interviews be directed to School Board Vice Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo, who could not be reached for comment Friday.

Fishbane has been with Roetzel & Andress for more than 21 years. The firm began its partnership with the school district in 1992 and have provided a broad range of legal services, including in-house counsel from 1992 to 2003.

Fishbane began his representation of the district in 1995 and has continued to be consistently involved.

“Jon’s commitment to Collier County Public Schools and helping guide them through the current challenges is something his fellow partners at Roetzel & Andress fully support,” said Robert G. Menzies, Roetzel & Andress’ Florida Administrative Partner, in a statement. “We regret the departure of our friend and colleague, yet we believe Jon is the right person at the right time for Collier County Public Schools. We look forward to continuing our service and partnership with Jon and Collier County Public Schools.”

Fishbane said among his goals, if his appointment is approved, are to assist the district with legal issues and questions, make sure contracts are followed and foster good relationships between management and employees.

Attempts to reach Chief Administrative Officer Mary Ann Gemmill Friday were unsuccessful.

The School Board meeting will begin at 3 p.m. Thursday in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail.

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