Let's give Hernando County School Board member Matt Foreman the benefit of the doubt.
Let's assume that he wasn't just trying to sound like he cared about school impact fees. Let us, for the moment, believe that he really wants to lead on this issue and fell a little short.
I'm talking about the board's workshop last week when Foreman unexpectedly blasted the four-member majority of the County Commission for its dismissive stance on this much-needed source of funding for schools.
Foreman doesn't have a problem with the stance itself. He can't; he's more dismissive of impact fees than anyone.
No, he just doesn't like the way it came about.
He doesn't like that commissioners previously suggested they might actually consider imposing the fees if they had an up-to-date cost study — when, really, they were dead set against the fees all along.
He's mad that the commission wasted nearly $40,000 of school and county money that paid for this report, mad that it was "playing politics with educational dollars." Finally, Foreman said, the commission owes the people a real explanation for its vote and not just a bunch of excuses that "lacked merit."
Unfortunately, Foreman's the champ when it comes to weak excuses for opposing impact fees. He thinks they're unfair always, no matter what, which puts him at odds with the state Legislature that created this system, with the courts that upheld it, with nearby counties that almost all charge these fees to help pay for new schools.
He's further behind on this issue than the backward-looking commission majority — further, even, than county builders who said they'd be happy to take on the burden of impact fees once their sick industry gets a little better.
So, to be a leader he needs to dump this indefensible position. Then he needs to go before the board when it takes a final vote on school impact fees on March 11, because that's the good news here: It's not too late.
Specifically, Foreman needs to provide what the School Board sadly lacked the last time this issue came up — political heat.
Point out what the commission is really doing — favoring a politically connected industry over education.
Call commissioners out on their claim that they just want to give builders a little more time, and do this by presenting a compromise that allows for charging an increasing percentage of the newly calculated fees tied to building permits until the housing market has recovered.
Show that, by relieving the builders of their burden, the commission is shifting it to the rest of us. That half-cent school sales tax that builders say they are okay with? Without impact fees, the real price would be more like a full cent on every dollar.
Get up before the commission and tell them exactly why their excuses don't cut it. Explain, for example, that it's perfectly acceptable that impact fees pay off debts on existing schools, because that's where the children of new home buyers will be taught — in available space.
Finally, Foreman needs to shame the commission for holding on to the very pattern that has made this county such a hard sell for builders: constructing too many houses and not enough community.
Because there is one good thing that came out of Foreman's high-minded, forceful speech. He proved he can lead if he really wants to.