Not Your Typical General Counsel…

- February 9, 2022 -

WORDS: Gabrielle Versmessen
PICTURES: Whitney Patton

The title of General Counsel for the School District of Manatee County may sound like an ordinary job, but Mitchell Teitelbaum (MT) brings a vibrant personality and unique passion to his career that makes this particular General Counsel one of a kind. 

According to the school district’s website, the position of General Counsel is “hired by and reports directly to the Superintendent. He provides general legal advice and representation for the entire School District, consistent with the School Board of Manatee County Policy and Procedure Manual. He represents the Superintendent in prosecuting employee discipline cases and student expulsions. He oversees all district contracts as well as all existing and new school board policies. He attends all board meetings.” 

Prior to even sitting down with Mitchell, his eagerness and dedication can be seen in his friendly emails and quick responses that aren’t just confined to business hours. Upon meeting one-on-one with Mitchell to interview him, it immediately became evident how open and personable he was through his conversational tone, detailed responses, and the occasional joke. 

Being born and raised in Los Angeles, Mitchell was introduced to multiple cultures and languages, which created the foundation for his love of always wanting to learn more. However, it was in the fifth grade that two teachers really made a lifelong impression on him. He says his love of languages was developed as well as a heart for the education system. 

NG: What was it that brought about your desire to work in the education system?
MT: I went to public schools, and when I started the 5th-grade, I began a love of education. Everyone has teachers in life, but my 5th-grade teachers were the most predominant teachers in my life. I was in Mr. Smith’s gifted class, and he was a dynamic teacher. His colloquialisms stood out to me the most, and he took an interest in his students that he really cared. It’s the same quality I see in teachers in Manatee County. I see the favorable things as I sit through meetings that the teachers are present, and I can hear the love of their students and the want of success and the guidance counselors who say, “yes, this is the pathway we need for the success of the student.” 

There was also Mr. Sykes, who was a typing teacher. But he did not teach me typing; he taught me, French. I developed a love for languages to the point that one of my passions is speaking a different language. I try to learn as much as I can, and being from Los Angeles, Spanish was second nature, next to the best Mexican food in the country. My love of language grew because I was influenced by an educator. 

NG: What else does your job entail?
MT: I have the opportunity every year to train the Guardians, who are armed security officers who have no law enforcement authority. With the tragic Parkland shooting, Coach Aaron Feis who gave his life to save those students had the Guardian program named after him. I am able to train the Guardians and teach them about school procedures, the code of student conduct, their role as a Guardian, what they can and cannot do to prevent an active assailant, and how to be successful in their job, not on patrol, but within the culture of the school environment in the sense of how we protect student privacy and ensure optimum safety on their campus. 

I also took on the risk management department this year which is the prevention of accidents, workers compensation claims, and the purchase of insurance. My goal is to mitigate risk and to ensure that we have the proper coverages in place at all times. 

NG: How has COVID changed your job in the last two years?
MT: With the executive orders, it’s made it very difficult to interpret what the executive order actually meant and its implications. The Department of Education also gave guidance to us on what the interpretations are. They’ll tell you how they feel it applies and give guidance to the District. There were a lot of orders coming in and a lot of compliance issues to the point where it evolved to a parent bill of rights in the latest legislation, ensuring what we can and cannot do. 

NG: What brought you to Manatee County?
MT: My father, David Teitelbaum, owned hotels out on Anna Maria Island. He was a real estate developer and was very actively involved in this community. He served on the Economic Development Council and brought the trolley to Anna Maria Island. He would have been down here for almost three decades, so I would come to vacation on Anna Maria Island for over a decade, and I finally moved here in April of 2014 and started as General Counsel on May 1st, 2014. 

NG: What did you do prior to becoming the General Counsel?
MT: I was an attorney and partner for a law firm in New York for 16 years, where we handled insurance defense work primarily for the New York City Housing Authority. Prior to that, I worked as house counsel for three different insurance companies. 

NG: What do you love most about your job as General Counsel?
MT: I really like helping others, and I love this type of position because the service is the education of children, and I support those who support children’s education. I support the departments and the schools whose mission is to educate our children. I’ve seen such tremendous growth these years with our school grades and our leadership. This county and District have evolved in many respects, and it’s for the better. I love to constantly learn and to grow and not to stay stagnant. That’s why this job is amazing. It’s ever-changing; it’s never the same.  

NG: What is the secret to success in your office?
MT: Knowing the legal issues, you can ask the necessary questions to resolve those issues. We don’t make up the law; we interpret the law. It’s also all about relationships. It’s about gaining trust amongst those that rely upon you to give good legal advice that people can rely on and being fair. 

NG: Is there anyone in particular that you’d like to recognize in your success as General Counsel?
MT: Andrea Messina, the Executive Director of the Florida School Board Association, has been a tremendous resource and gave me initial guidance when I first started and knew no one. Our Superintendent, Cynthia Saunders, brought me more to the school level, and I really credit her for opening another aspect to my world which would have remained closed otherwise. I have a lot of gratitude for the leadership of Ms. Saunders. Under her administration, I have truly grown and become a better attorney than I ever was before. My wife of 30 years, Joanna Petriccione, has been my biggest support and inspiration. Seeing her success has been so encouraging to me and pushed me to succeed as well. 

Related Articles