Host: An angry public made their feelings known at Tuesday’s School Board meeting, where during more than three hours of public comment, all had one name on their lips: Bridget Ziegler. WSLR reporter Florence Fahringer was there.
Johannes Werner: Yesterday, the Sarasota County School Board held a meeting dominated by the prospect of Bridget Ziegler’s resignation. As revelations concerning the Zieglers have surfaced in the past weeks, their political posts came into question. Her husband Christian Ziegler has found himself in a more precarious situation, with accusations of sexual assault and an ongoing police investigation. Bridget’s situation isn’t as clear-cut. Unlike her husband, she does not stand accused of criminal wrongdoing, and what she does stand accused of — engaging in a consensual threeway with another woman — is not in itself considered immoral by her most vocal critics. Regardless, her critics carried the day, ceaselessly and overwhelmingly calling for her resignation on charges of hypocrisy.
Besides the calls for her resignation from the public, Ziegler has seen fellow board members turn against her. Board chair Karen Rose and board member Tom Edwards — who describes himself as the only moderate on the dais — had called for her resignation before the meeting. Rose, a fellow conservative, was even the one who put forward the resolution calling for her resignation.
Karen Rose: I’m going to proceed to make the motion to adopt this resolution, as read by legal counsel Patrick Duggan, and ask if there is a second. If there isn’t, I fully understand. This is something I’ve chosen to do individually. If there is, that is up to any individual board member. So I will ask if there is a second, and then proceed to comments. [pause] … Hearing none, I’d like to refer to comments please.
Oddly enough, Edwards did not second the motion. Without a second, the motion would die on the floor. For a moment, it seemed that not only would Bridget not resign, but the board would not even call for her resignation. Ziegler had already asked to make a comment, but decided against it, as even she had anticipated a second to appear. The ultimate anticlimax seemed to have occurred: No resignation; no motion to ask for a resignation; no comment from Ziegler.
Last year, Ziegler ran with a slate of two other conservatives for school board positions. ZEM – Z for Ziegler, E for Tim Enos, and M for Robyn Marinelli – secured the endorsement of Governor Ron DeSantis. All three had won their elections. Up until the meeting, Enos and Marinelli had remained silent, refusing to call for Ziegler’s resignation. Then, just before the meeting began, Enos made his opinion known: he joined with Rose and Edwards in calling for Ziegler’s resignation. Ziegler only had one apparent ally left on the board, Marinelli. Apparent, because Rose did in fact have a second, albeit a technologically-challenged one.
Robyn Marinelli: [inaudible] … button.
KR: I’m sorry, it didn’t show up, Mrs. Marinelli. So this … you’re asking for a second. I’m asking for a second, if one exists. If it doesn’t, that is fine as well.
RM: I second.
[Extended applause from the audience]
KR: Please! Please!
Bridget Ziegler had the chance to resign in the days preceding the meeting, but she maintained a defiant silence. The silence finally broke after this final betrayal.
Bridget Ziegler: I’m disappointed. As people may know, I serve on another public board, and this issue did not come up, and we were able to forge ahead with the business as the board. Recently we did discuss, when I was chair, about potential resolutions that had come forward. And you had done a little bit of due diligence in the past of what has taken place in Sarasota County. I believe it was something of the sort of maybe six to eight resolutions [that] had been brought forward over the course of 20 years. Is that about accurate?
Patrick Duggan: It was five years.
BZ: Five years, okay, and many of which were of a political nature. I bring that up because that was the intent to remove that and not proceed forward. Mr. Duggan, just to reiterate — I know the chair did mention this — but just one more time: This does not have any teeth. Is that correct?
PD: This board has no ability to remove one of the other members.
FF: Then, the motion was put to a vote. The first vote was a big red X, from Ziegler herself. It was immediately followed by a green check, from Edwards. A pause, before another green check appeared, this time from Rose. Then, a longer pause. Rose chimed in, encouraging the last two board members to take their time. Marinelli, the motion’s second, became the second-to-last board member to cast her vote: a green check. Enos followed soon after, a final green check. The audience applauded.
Up to this point, Tom Edwards had taken a conciliatory tone. With that in mind, he conjured a letter addressed to DeSantis, asking the governor — the only instance authorized to do so — to remove Ziegler. Edwards failed to get a second supporter to approve the letter.
A full hour and a half before the meeting even began, a crowd had gathered on the parking lot in front of the school board building in The Landings mall. It was an anti-Ziegler rally, hosting a series of speakers, each cast against a background of protesters waving anti-Ziegler signs and chanting anti-Ziegler slogans. Within minutes, an agitator had arrived with a megaphone, shouting how Edwards was the real criminal, for making children wear masks. The agitator was by far the exception; the public outcry was overwhelmingly anti-Ziegler, as this rally merely set the stage for the three hours of public comments which followed.
Speaker 1: Kids are not stupid. They eventually see and hear everything in one way or another, either directly or in some form. What on earth are they supposed to think? With role models like this? I would think it would be very frightening, or at least confusing to be a child growing up today.
Speaker 2: The reason I’m here today is to implore Bridget Ziegler to do the right thing and step down from the school board, in light of recent revelations into your personal life. I want to be clear that I am not referring to the actions of your husband and the criminal investigation. I am, however, referring to the blatant hypocrisy that you have built your political career on, espousing the values of traditional marriage — one man, one woman. You have been ardently opposed to LGBTQ-plus rights, when it turns out you’re actually the ‘B’ in LGBTQ-plus. You and your husband are one of the main reasons that this community is so divided. We should celebrate our diversity and make our community welcoming to all those that choose to live here. Let’s work on it, and then let’s move forward. Please step down.
Speaker 3: I’m here to represent my father who’s not here. He sat in your chair, Mrs. Ziegler. He was chairman, reelected, of the Sarasota School Board, Dr. Richard Ehlers. And he would have been here to tell you, you all need an education. You should be ashamed of yourself, for what you’ve done to this beautiful county. We had a fantastic education system going before you destroyed it, piece by piece, by piece.
FF: Once the arduous three hours were over, Edwards made a comment empathizing with Ziegler. Then, business continued as usual. For the last 20 minutes of the meeting, they worked through the rest of the agenda before finally adjourning. Bridget Ziegler made no more comments.
For a meeting all about Bridget, she said remarkably little. She made no direct allusions to the scandal; her only comments were to remind the board that even if they wanted her off, they couldn’t force her resignation, all the while making the claim that such resolutions were rare and consistently political. Though the school board had no power to oust its Ziegler, the Florida Republican Party is not as limited in dealing with its own Ziegler. This coming Sunday, The Florida GOP will meet to discuss — and likely ratify — Christian Ziegler’s termination as party chair; and while Bridget remains unaccused of criminal wrongdoing, the criminal investigation into Christian remains ongoing. Though Bridget may continue as a member of the school board for years to come, it’s possible that she may do so as the spouse of a man charged with sexual assault.
This is Florence Fahringer, reporting for WSLR.
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