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Sarasota Thursday, Jul. 29, 2010 7 years ago

OUR VIEW: Welcome to school board politics


Welcome to the dirty, slimy world of elected politics, Kathy James.

James, a first-time candidate for public office, in this case for the Sarasota County School Board, has obtained quite a real-world education these past 14 years as the mother of four children. But not much of that experience prepared her for the sleaze she has trudged through while campaigning for office.

“I was like a little Pollyanna,” she told us a few weeks ago.

But good for her. James is shining a light on the good-ol’-boy-and-girl clubs inside the county school district. This past week, in fact, James delivered a speech to the school board describing her encounters with school-district favoritism and the misuse of county resources in favor of a particular school board candidate.

The candidate happens to be James’ opponent.

We have reprinted James’ speech below, as well as copies of two e-mails, which James cites in her speech as evidence of what she calls “dishonesty and the lack of transparency within our school board.”

The e-mails are also examples of the cozy clubby-ness that James says is quite apparent once you start observing the behavior of the incumbent school board members and the district administration.

She’s not alone. Another school board candidate, Joseph Neunder, speaks of observing the same atmosphere. They both say that when you watch the school board in action, you can’t escape the feeling that much of the board’s decision making has been made before the meeting — out of the shine of the light.

“There’s always some hidden agenda,” James says.

Says Neunder about the board meetings: “It’s like watching people throwing beach balls to each other. When you sit and watch the interaction that goes on up there, the orchestrated events look practiced and rehearsed.”

It’s refreshing to see candidates who want to purge the incestuous status quo.

+ Kathy James’ speech …
Ladies and Gentleman:

I am Kathy James, and I am running for the Sarasota County School Board, District 5 seat.

In the past several days, while researching data for a community forum that I participated in last night, I became aware that the school board and its administration, as well as at least one teachers union member, are using school board resources to promote the candidate that they are supporting, who happens to be my opponent.

As an example of this, on June 16, the Sarasota County Schools budget director sent an e-mail detailing a meeting that he had with another school board candidate. This director shared with the board his responses to certain questions by this candidate, in an effort to, (as he wrote) “keep all informed.”

Not only was this e-mail sent to the school board members, the superintendent and two other administrators, it was also sent to my opponent, who is only a fellow school board candidate like myself. Neither I nor the candidate involved in the meeting received this same e-mail.

Three weeks later, on July 8, the district’s communications director sent an e-mail to all school board candidates that stated: “While the district wants to provide candidates full access to the information they need, it is also important that all candidates receive the same information.”

Clearly, this is not what they are doing. It is unethical, and it is wrong.

You should know, this website where I received this information is now shut down as of this morning.

I want to be clear: I am a parent, not a politician. I am in this school board race because I truly believe that I can make a positive difference in the education of all our children in this school district.

I want to put an end to the dishonesty and the lack of transparency within our school board. I want to engage stakeholders and the community in the decision making that impacts them. I want to be a part of a school board that does the right things for the right reasons and is objective in its data-driven decision making.

With these sorts of behaviors by the school board, the administration and certain members of the teachers union, it is no wonder that the community has mistrust for the decisions made by the Sarasota County School Board.

It is absolutely time for a change on our school board.

I have copies of all e-mails mentioned for anyone who may wish to see them.

Thank you for your support.

+ Favoritism at City Hall
It wouldn’t be politics if there were no favoritism. It’s everywhere.

While School Board candidate Kathy James has swallowed her first big doses of political ipecac, the same kind of political stroking has been going on at Sarasota City Hall — with Mayor Kelly Kirschner the dispenser.

Go back to June 7. That’s when the city’s infamous Police Advisory Panel, headed by Kirschner pal Susan Chapman, presented the panel’s findings and recommendations to the City Commission.

When Chapman finished her grand show, panel backers sitting in the City Commission Chambers applauded.

Said Mayor Kirschner: “Normally, I don’t allow clapping, but in this case I think it’s appropriate.”
Fast forward to July 19.

Once again, the findings of the Police Advisory Panel were the subject of a City Commission meeting. This time, interim Police Chief Mikel Hollaway stood before the commissioners passionately defending his police officers.

When Hollaway finished, a few police supporters in the audience applauded. This time, however, Mayor Kirschner shut them down. Applause, he told them, was not allowed.

+ They’re part of bureaucracy
Here’s one membership we won’t be renewing this year: the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

The Florida Chamber, which calls itself Florida’s “leading voice of business,” announced Tuesday it is endorsing Florida Attorney General Bill McCullom for the Republican gubernatorial nomination over Naples entrepreneur-businessman Rick Scott.

Let’s get this straight:

• The chamber = “leading voice of business” (or so it alleges).

• McCullom = career politician, almost no private-sector experience, never managed or ran a business.

• Scott = serial entrepreneur, built, managed and operated the largest hospital company in the world (more than 200,000 employees); invests own capital in startup businesses that create jobs.

The chamber board should be canned. And the organization should change its name: the Florida Chamber for Career Bureaucrat Politicians.

Sarasota County School Board candidate Kathy James spoke about these e-mails in the accompanying speech reprinted on this page. James says the first e-mail shows favoritism on the part of the school district finance director, Al Weidner. The second shows a county school teacher at Pine View used a district computer during school hours to e-mail information to other teachers about a fundraiser for a school board candidate endorsed by the teachers’ union.

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