BROOKSVILLE — Gov. Rick Scott might get a little help from Hernando County Republicans as he considers applicants for the nonpartisan School Board seat left vacant after Pat Fagan's resignation.
The Hernando Republican Executive Committee announced Friday that it is forming a five-member committee to review the resumes and applications of prospective candidates and meet with those who are willing to sit for an interview.
The process is independent of the selection process overseen by Scott's appointments office, but the committee "may make a formal recommendation" to the governor, Hernando REC Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said in a news release.
"The goal here is to possibly recommend an applicant who will look out for the best interests of the students while being a good steward of taxpayer dollars," Ingoglia said in the release.
The committee will meet with candidates regardless of party and will not be asking about party in interviews, Ingoglia said in a subsequent e-mail to Times.
The committee will be composed of local REC members and is still being formed, Ingoglia said.
Asked what will factor in the decision to make a recommendation or not, he replied, "That determination will be up to the interview committee and the executive board."
School Board races are nonpartisan. By state law, candidates are barred from campaigning based on any affiliation to a political party. It's been that way since 1998, when Florida voters changed the Constitution to keep partisan politics out of the school races.
So why would the REC get involved?
"We are not part of the 'selection' process," Ingoglia said. "There is nothing stopping the local Democrat Party from forming their own committee to interview candidates."
James Singer, chairman of the Hernando Democratic Executive Committee, said he hadn't heard about the GOP effort until a reporter called him Friday morning.
"It's pretty transparent what they're doing," Singer said. "They're trying to politicize the one thing they don't own in the county. I wouldn't serve on such a committee even if they were pretending to be nonpolitical. It's wholly improper and would be even if they put a token Democrat on it."
The role of parties, Singer said, is to do battle over partisan seats during election time.
"We're not going to fight them on the School Board issue," Singer said. "It's none of our business."
Singer said he's troubled by the prospect of local Republicans making a recommendation to a Republican governor who has aligned himself with the tea party movement and is pushing a roughly 10 percent cut to education funding.
"Troubling is the mildest word I can think of," Singer said. "I'm aghast."
Fagan, a longtime parks and recreation supervisor for Hernando County, resigned from the District 2 seat this month in the middle of his second four-year School Board term after his county position was eliminated. The 61-year-old — who, for the record, is a registered Republican — said he couldn't afford to defer his county retirement benefits and live on the School Board salary of $32,912.
Those who want to be considered for the appointment must fill out an application, said Amy Graham, Scott's deputy press secretary. The applications are available at www.flgov.com/appointment.
"Recommendations are welcome, but do not exempt any candidate from going through the same process as all other applicants," Graham said when asked how the Hernando GOP committee's input might factor in Scott's decision.
No applications had been received as of early Friday, Graham said.
Candidates do not have to live in the voting district or even the county to be eligible for the appointment, but would have to move into District 2 to qualify to run in the 2012 election to keep the seat.
So far, two candidates have said they plan to apply.
One is Robert Neuhausen, an engineer with Sparton Electronics in Brooksville. Neuhausen ran for the District 4 seat in 2008, losing to first-time candidate James Yant, who is now chairman of the School Board.
The other is Keane Chapman, a national sales manager for Alumi-Guard in Brooksville, who challenged and lost to incumbent Dianne Bonfield last year. Chapman told the Times on Thursday that he talked the decision over with his family and will seek the appointment.
As he did in his campaign, Chapman touted his business background.
"I think I can help with the budget issues we're going to be facing and help manage the change that's coming with the reform measures in Tallahassee," Chapman said.
Neither Neuhausen nor Chapman live in District 2.
Reached Friday, Fagan said he hadn't heard about the GOP committee and doesn't plan to weigh in on the process.
But he's nervous about deep cuts to education, "and the governor's not helping with the recommended cuts he's making," he said.
"It's very, very important to find the person to go in with both eyes open and not make judgment calls based upon political endeavors, I'd guess you'd say," Fagan said. "We need somebody who's going to help the students, and no matter what party affiliation they are, they have to go in there knowing it's going to be a tough time with the budget this year."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.