By Kevin Hogencamp
LEESBURG – A judge says that Lee County School System Transportation Director Ricky Canterbury has a horrible management style and a one-sided approach to hearing grievances, but that there’s no evidence that Canterbury shoved a bus driver as alleged.
Chief Magistrate Jim Thurmond’s criticism of Canterbury led to a profanity-filled rant outside the Lee County courthouse by the school system’s attorney, W. Edward Meeks.
The drama unfolded Wednesday at the Lee County Courthouse, where bus driver Shelly McBurnett attempted to convince Thurmond to issue an arrest warrant for Canterbury. McBurnett alleges that Canterbury pushed her in the back in Canterbury’s office on Feb. 25, but the only person in the room, McBurnett’s supervisor, testified that she does not know whether McBurnett’s claim is true.
The alleged physical confrontation occurred immediately following a videotaped meeting in which Canterbury spoke harshly to McBurnett, while refusing to allow her to have a witness. McBurnett videotaped Canterbury’s actions during the meeting with her cell phone.
After watching the videotape and hearing witnesses, Thurman said he could not issue an arrest warrant because there was no evidence that a crime occurred.
But he said Canterbury failed in his duty as a public servant in dealing with McBurnett’s grievance, including refusing to grant McBurnett’s request to have another bus driver to witness the meeting.
Noting toward the end of the hearing that Canterbury is “hired and paid by taxpayers,” Thurmond said, “I don’t understand his management style, but it must work for the School System.
Thurmond later said to McBurnett, also during the hearing: “I am appalled that Mr. Canterbury would not let you have a witness. If that’s the School Board policy, they need to change it. I hope Mr. Canterbury does not act toward everyone the way he acted toward you.”
Outside the courthouse after the hearing, Meeks cursed and told Canterbury that Thurmond should have disqualified himself from the case, adding, “It’s your goddang office and you can have anyone you want in it.”
At issue was McBurnett’s performance during a safety evaluation that McBurnett failed. McBurnett said she asked for a meeting with Canterbury for the purpose of stating for the record that she performed the safety drill precisely as she was trained to do.
Before applying for the warrant in Magistrate Court, McBurnett convinced Leesburg police to charge Canterbury, but the case was dismissed. McBurnett also filed a grievance with the School System, but Canterbury prevailed.
“I don’t understand the board not taking any action (against Canterbury),” Thurmond said.