In these crazy, pandemic days, it can often seem like we’re living in the middle of a J.K. Rowling novel; where the Avada Kedrava curse comes as a surprise in the night, no one knows how they were exposed, but their lungs are shriveling and light is going out.
But our heroes, the Order of the Phoenix, resist. They fight the good fight to resist the evil overcoming their world.
Today, in Jacksonville, FL, we found out some of our phoenixes who live among us. We don’t have Dumbledore, Remus, Sirius, Tonks, or the Weasleys, but we do have Scott Cairns, Audrey Moran, Hank Coxe, and others.
They fight on behalf of public schools.
In case you missed it, last year the school board of the 20th largest system in the nation decided to ask citizens to adopt a half-penny sales tax to replace or repair the oldest buildings in the state of Florida; the average age of a school in Duval County is almost 60 years.
That didn’t sit well with the mayor. (Name withheld because he really is not on a par with Lord Voldemort.) He ginned up opposition through the General Counsel’s Office, who issued the confusing legal opinion that sometimes ‘shall’ means ‘may,’ which wasn’t binding until it was.
That meant the City Council, not to be confused with the Counsel, could act as a super-school board and refuse to perform their constitutional duty to approve the referendum for a November ballot that the school system offered to pay for. And they did so, because of course they did so. What’s the purpose of being a death eater unless one can curry favor with the mayor (pun intended!) by holding out for a ransom payment to charter schools.
The school board, with no other options, sued the city to force the Council to do their duty.
The Counsel forbid the school board from doing so as he cited the city charter that he was the one and only one (“Only I can live forever”) to decide legal issues. He went so far as to tell the court system that the city charter forbade any judge from deciding a legal issue contrary to what he said.
Too bad no one was paying attention.
To bring this story to a close, the judge was agreeing with the school board more often than not. As the City Council (and Counsel?) realized they were about to lose, the Elder Wand did not belong to them, not truly, they decided to settle.
The virus crisis has thrown the timetable out, but at long last, the city and school board settled out of court. Basically, the school board gets their referendum on the November 2020 ballot.
Before you think the good guys won, remember that the sticking point was the hand-off of building money to charters that didn’t need it. Thanks to a new state law that took effect for 2020, the school board will have to hand over about 20% of the new levy to private school operators that don’t need it.
So the school board won, but they lost. So did the taxpayers and citizens of Jacksonville, because when charter schools close, they don’t return the property or the money. (The explanation, which is not unique to this city, would require another blog.)
But why celebrate Messrs. Coxe, Cairns, and Moran?
While the Counsel (not the Council) raged that the school board did not have the right to hire outside attorneys, even when the Counsel’s conflict of interest was apparent to all, even when the Counsel was violating every legal ethic guiding attorney behavior in that he was pushing the interests of one client to the detriment of another, these citizens stepped up to represent the school board.
At the time, only last summer, they said they would not bother with collecting fees unless the school board was successful in their suit.
“To charge the district for helping to provide enhanced learning environments for our children, improve their security, and bolster the overall economy of our community would be unimaginable,” Coxe said.
Thank you, Mr. Coxe, Mr. Cairns, and Ms. Moran. You show the civic pride of a city that once knew how to work together. You show us a better way.