Lake Wales Charter School District attorney Robin Gibson resigns, citing a possible conflict of interest with his work for the city of Lake Wales if he were to remain.
LAKE WALES — Lake Wales attorney Robin Gibson is a man who wears many hats.
He is currently the town's deputy mayor. As such, he is also the chairman of the town's community redevelopment agency. And he has long been the general counsel of the Lake Wales Charter School District — one of only two charter school districts in the state that is separate from the county school district.
His dream of overseeing the education of the town's youngest residents, both rich and poor, took root long ago, but his dream of making downtown the belle of the ball again is finally starting to see the fruits of his and others' labor, particularly as a new development plan — the Dover Kohl plan — is implemented.
But there is one sticking point and it forced him to resign his position with the charter school district this week — the use of the historic 1919 school property in downtown.
The Polk County school district gave the property to the city of Lake Wales 27 years ago. Now the Lake Wales Charter School District would like the city to give or sell the property to them for use of Bok Academy North, which is currently housed in a church.
Gibson sought an opinion on the possible conflict from the Florida Ethics Commission. Members of the commission advised him that “in the event of a donation, I did not have a conflict as long as I abstained from voting and discussing the matter,” Gibson wrote in his resignation letter to the charter school district. “However, the Commission also found that, in the event of a sale of the property, the City would be 'doing business' with the charter schools, I would have a conflict of interest, and would have to resign my position with one of the two parties.”
Gibson told The Ledger that he had to make a choice. ”Based on past experience, I think I can play a constructive role for implementation of the (redevelopment) plan — which will be a transformation for our town. So I made that choice.”
Gibson wrote in his resignation letter that appraisals of the property have been ordered and negotiations, of which he has not been a part, are bringing both entities closer to a sale.
“Assuming that to be the case, I am uncomfortable with hanging on while the potential for a conflict becomes more of a reality,” he wrote.
Gibson has been the face of the Lake Wales Charter School District for nearly 20 years, since its inception, speaking eloquently and convincingly. But the charter school district — and occasionally Gibson — have been at odds with school district officials as both sides struggled to keep or gain control of the students, buildings and millions of dollars in education funding from the state.
Two Lake Wales schools — Spook Hill Elementary and McLaughlin Middle School — remain under the auspices of the Polk County school district, while Dale R. Fair Babson Park Elementary, Hillcrest Elementary, Janie Howard Wilson Elementary, Polk Avenue Elementary, Edward W. Bok Academy, Bok Academy North and Lake Wales High School all fall under the charter school district.
Several Polk County Public Schools board members said they look forward to a change in the relationship with the charter school district.
“Mr. Gibson always dealt with me in a straight-forward and sincere manner while remaining a staunch supporter of the LWCSD,” School Board vice-chairman Lynn Wilson said Wednesday. “The difficulties and challenges that exist between the PCSD and the LWCSD are unfortunate and have not served our students well and that is quite disappointing to me.
“There have been immovable objects on both sides that are not the fault of anyone in particular; however, I remain hopeful that eventually we can mend fences, work together, and find solutions on behalf of our students.”
Billy Townsend, who is cousins with Gibson and, therefore, would neither disparage nor compliment him, said it came as a relief not to have business and family be so closely mixed. He added that Gibson did a mountain of work to get the charter school district up and running.
“I do think it's time for Lake Wales Charter Schools and Polk County Schools to have a different kind of relationship than we've had — a better one, a more honest one, on all sides,” Townsend said. “I don't want to comment on Robin's role in any of that. Maybe this sort of changing of the guard offers an opportunity for all of us to reassess where we stand.”
As for Gibson, his role with the Lake Wales Charter School District isn't necessarily over.
“I remain committed to the idea that great schools make great communities, and I will continue to support the schools in any way that I can as a citizen of the Lake Wales community,” he wrote.
Gibson's last day with the charter school district will be March 14.
Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.