The underlying political philosophy used to create the U.S. Constitution, including the separation of powers among three independent branches of government and ‘checks and balances,’ in which each independent branch would have a means of stopping other branches from the exercise of unlimited power.
This basic framework was used by each of the 50 states to create their own constitutions and the idea is replicated innumerable times in local county and city charters.
It is a philosophy and framework that has worked well for over 225 years even as it derived from the founders’ abhorence of the concentration of all government powers in one person, namely a king.
Even the courts do not have unlimited power even as they go through activist periods where it seems to some that they are legislating through their power of judicial review. Congress, although they have never used this check, may deny jurisdiction over any issue to the courts.
Historically, the states are sovereign. The federal government derives its powers from the states who delegated them because joint action in many areas would benefit all; in the beginning, foreign policy (relations with other nations) and defense seemed to be two areas for cooperation and coordination.
States, for the most part of the nation’s existence and their independence, followed a principle of decentralization: the closer to the people was their governance, the better. Powers were delegated to counties and cities to manage their affairs that were local in nature; among these was the education of youth. States set overarching policies and standards, but local school boards carried out the actual provision of education to the young.
Because democracy was seen as the highest value, in which the people are not subjects of the states, but were the source of the states’ sovereignty, elected office was the norm. More than governors and legislators were elected; state officials (including commissioners of education) and judges were also elected offices.
Time and practice has modified the number of offices and judges who are elected, but the principle has endured. We the People will choose those who will lead us and judge us.
Democracy is now under threat. It is beyond one blog post to describe the many and various ways constitutions are being twisted to concentrate power in the hands of a few individuals, but this one will focus on the coming effort to abolish an elected school board in Duval County, Florida.
Every 10 years, the city undergoes a process known as the Charter Revision Commission (similar to the every 20 year process for the state.) Last time around, the CRC proposed abolishing the elected school board in favor of one appointed by the mayor. It went nowhere once the recommendation reached the City Council.
But that was then and this is now. What has changed? Jacksonville has retrogressed towards the pre-consolidation days of city bosses and concentration of power into a few hands of the political-wealthy class.
As a starting point, it seems that the CRC wants to pick up where the last commission left off with its recommendations for changing the governance of the school system. In perhaps a point of irony, the 2009 CRC prioritized its recommendations (source: Florida Times-Union):
The 2010 report recommended several changes for the selection of the School Board, which currently has seven members. Ranked in order of preference, the recommendations were:
• Change the School Board so the mayor appoints all its members, subject to City Council confirmation. The board members would “serve at the pleasure of the mayor.”
• Make the School Board a mix of appointed and elected members. The mayor would appoint a majority of the board.
• Keep the School Board as an elected body but have all members elected to at-large seats in countywide votes, rather than having single-member districts. Currently, the county is divided into seven districts and voters in each district elect a School Board member.
• Establish charter schools “or an appropriate charter school district” under the sponsorship and governance of the city.
Each of these recommendations strikes at the heart of the principle of democratic control by We the People. Each would remove those who run our schools from our direct control and removal. Each would concentrate power into the hands of one person, the mayor, although each option as one moves down the list does so less effectively.
Do not doubt this. Even if we go to option 3, seven board seats each of which is elected county-wide, the advantage would go to the wealthy who alone have the ability to fund the campaigns of persons friendly to their agenda.
Democracy loses. A mayor, any mayor, not only the current one, who owes the position to the backing and financing of the elite, would be the point man to control such a school board, even as the current denizen of the office appears to be able to control 19 elected persons to the City Council.
If not all 19, enough to overcome the checks and balances in the city charter.
As for option 4, is this why the mayor and his controlled City Council are delaying the referendum? Because in the end, they will (under the sponsorship of the Civic Council) set up a competing school system?
“It’s easier here.” That’s the marketing slogan of the city.
Not if you believe in democracy.