A surprise move was revealed when Jacksonville’s (FL) citizens learned that two of the most experienced and shrewd insiders had made a proposal to the School Board to spearhead its efforts to put the sales tax referendum on a ballot. (It requires City Council approval.)

Sam Mousa. This is the guy who greases the wheels for mayors and moves back and forth between City Hall and lobbying. He ‘retired’ from the Curry administration, but now pops up with his own lobbying firm. Everyone needs a plan for retirement and this must be his way of keeping a finger in the pie without the daily grind of an everyday job.

Tim Baker. This is Lenny Curry’s go-to guy for campaign expertise. He knows Jacksonville elections from the inside out. His clout can best be understood through the appointment of his wife to the City’s decennial charter revision commission.

The duo met with the school board chair, Lori Hershey, and proposed providing the following: “The group would create a prioritized list of projects that would be funded by the tax — critics of the plan have said the school’s existing list isn’t detailed enough — and present it to the City Council. The group would also provide “one-on-one advocacy” of the referendum with City Council members, civic groups and “other elected officials” in order to get it placed on the ballot.” (Source of Quote: Florida Times-Union, “Ex-Curry aide, mayor’s top strategist offer Duval Schools sales-tax help,” July 26, 2019.)

The cost? $12,500 per month for a total of 30 months; however, the contract would terminate upon placement of the referendum on the November 2020 ballot or if voters reject the amendment [GOT assumes that means a November 2019 ballot happens.]

Early social media reaction has been muted, but it seems education advocates recoil from the odious necessity of hiring political muscle.

On principle, they are exactly correct. Why should the School Board hire consultants to do the work they could do in-house? The offer seems to smell of pirates extorting safety from a coastal town or a crime syndicate requiring protection money from local businesses. In both cases, what is being purchased is protection from the the ones offering the protection.

Further, why shouldn’t the School Board now answer the Council questions and move forward in good faith? Why do they need hired guns?

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) will answer that question: Because this isn’t a bare-knuckled political fight with councilmen who sold out to the charter privatizers in the city, such as Gary Chartrand, who is posting ads for charter schools on his Facebook page, it is a brass-knuckles on the bare digits political fight. Bones are going to be broken.

GOT would like to get on his high horse and denounce the Mousa/Baker proposal. He would like to endorse the calls that if the School Board needs consultants, they should put a contract out to bid. But no one, absolutely no one, for whatever price, can offer what the Mousa/Baker duo will bring: the political clout necessary to outmuscle all the players, even the mayor.

That’s the political calculus. Hiring the duo may be the best chance the School Board has. A.G. Gancarski (Florida politics) has earlier said that the School Board needs to understand how Jacksonville politics work and accept that they need political muscle. (Editorial note: GOT looked for a link, couldn’t find it, so if he is in error, please let him know and he will edit.)

Forget principle. If we want the half-cent sales tax referendum to reach the ballot, the School Board will have to hold their noses and hire them.

It’s a brass-knuckled fight.

Plus, if the alternative is to cave to the 20% demand for revenue off the top to charter schools, a demand that will result in at least 20%, probably more like 25 to 33% of the needs on the Master Facilities Plan going unfulfilled, the $450,000 contract price is a bargain.

Postscript: For conspiracy theorists who will say that the Mousa/Baker proposal is only an insidious tentacle reaching out from Boss Curry to gain control of the School Board to ultimately frustrate them, hmmm, GOT doesn’t believe it. But he will be entertained to read the speculations.

One thought on “Political Calculus

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