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School Board member resents advice on reducing legal fees


After School Board Member Dale Simchick publicly chided Audit Committee Chairman Bob Auwaerter at a recent meeting for offering advice on how to reduce the district’s legal fees, Auwaerter, who serves without compensation, said he is now unlikely to serve on the committee again.

Auwaerter, who chaired the audit committee for a year, brought valuable expertise to the volunteer position. He grew investment company Vanguard’s fixed-income fund from $1.3 billion to $750 billion during his 32-year career with the company, which is just shy of the Netherlands’ yearly gross domestic product.

Prior to his chairmanship, the audit committee had been inactive since 2012. It was revived by the School Board in response to a $7 million deficit in the health insurance fund. Each School Board member appointed a committee member.

Currently, the School Board pays its outside general counsel Suzanne D’Agresta $264,000 a year in retainer fees and about $20,000 a year for travel, online research, photocopies and postage.

The last time the board sought competitive bids for its legal work was in 2012. Three law firms bid at the time, but D’Agresta, who did not submit a bid, was retained at the same rate,

After studying the situation, the audit committee advised the School Board to get bids for legal services now and then every three years, to ensure that the district is not overpaying.

When Auwaerter presented the committee’s recommendation last month, Simchick and School Board Member Tiffany Justice were critical.

They complained Auwaerter had done all the research, rushing their personally appointed committee members and muffling their voices. His fellow committee members voiced no concern about the research, and voted unanimously in favor of seeking bids for legal work.

School Board Member Laura Zorc said she appreciated Auwaerter’s advice and School Board Vice Chairman Charles Searcy said Simchick should not be correcting Auwaerter.

Auwaerter was not allowed to respond to Simchick’s statements at the public meeting. He told Vero Beach 32963, “I am very disappointed. I’m certainly not interested in serving again on the committee.”