Why has HCS Hired a Political Strategist?

 

Ferrell's and Robinson's cars outside Old Times Building and Driscoll's office 9/3/14.

From October 2013 through at least November 2014 (the most currently available HCS check register), Huntsville City Schools has paid a total of $68,165.00 to The Driscoll Group a local firm specializing in “Advertising, Public Relations, and Political Strategies.”

According to the entries on the check registers this total was paid for “OTHER PROF SERVICES.”

So far, HCS has written David Driscoll of The Driscoll Group eleven checks over that period for the following amounts:

  1. 10/24/2013 – $3,600.00
  2. 11/7/2013 – $3,600.00
  3. 1/23/2014 – $8,200.00
  4. 2/14/2014 – $5,715.00
  5. 3/6/2014 – $4,425.00
  6. 4/2014 – $6,725.00 (Beginning in April, the district stopped publishing the exact date of the written check.)
  7. 5/2014 – $8,800.00
  8. 6/2014 – $4,575.00
  9. 7/2014 – $4,375.00
  10. 9/2014 – $9,050.00
  11. 11/2014 – $9,100.00

Who is David Driscoll?

Well according to his company’s Facebook page and the Huntsville Times, Mr. Driscoll is one of the top 75 “Most Influential” people in the city.

You might remember him as David Blair’s campaign spokesperson when Mr. Blair ran a failed campaign for the District 7 State Senate seat against Sen. Paul Sanford in June 2014. After Mr. Blair lost, he accused Sen. Sanford of paying black voters to hand out marked ballots in some northwest Huntsville precincts. Mr. Blair refused to appear on WHNT to level these accusations in person, but his spokesperson, Mr. Driscoll, offered the following statement:

This was not a referendum on David Blair’s tenure on the board. Remember just over two years ago Huntsville City Schools were $20 million in debt and now they have over $30 million in reserves. The HCS is [sic] in the best shape in history while spending over $200 million building new schools. The DOJ vs HCS is a big issue in north Huntsville and Sanford knew it.

(And yes it was a referendum on Blair’s tenure on the board, but feel free to disregard my completely biased and non-professional opinion on that matter. If it wasn’t a referendum, why did Mr. Driscoll feel compelled to claim that it wasn’t?)

For someone acting as Mr. Blair’s spokesperson, this sounds remarkably like the message that was constantly coming out of the board meetings propaganda machine at the same time, doesn’t it?

You’ll note that by that time Huntsville City Schools, another of The Driscoll Group’s clients, had already paid Mr. Driscoll $21,115.00 for “OTHER PROF SERVICES.”

Potentially getting paid twice for a job done once is the heart and soul of American entrepreneurialism, after all.

Other School Board Candidates

In addition to working on David Blair’s senate campaign, The Driscoll Group, according to campaign finance reports, also worked on Laurie McCaulley’s 2012 district 1 school board campaign, Dr. Jennie Robinson’s 2014 district 3 city council campaign, Walker McGinnis’ 2014 district 4 school board campaign, and Elisa Ferrell’s 2014 district 3 school board campaign. The only current board members that Driscoll doesn’t seem to have worked for are Culbreath and Wilder.

It was, in short, a busy summer and fall for Driscoll.

As those who were paying attention will remember, it was a bit astonishing how similar Robinson’s, McGinnis’, and Ferrell’s campaigns sounded during the fall. It was almost as if they were all talking from the same playbook along with the sitting board members. They were all singing from the same “Huntsville City Schools are in the best shape in history” songbook.

By the way, if you exclude McCaulley’s payments to The Driscoll Group from her 2012 campaign, McGinnis, Robinson, and Ferrell only paid The Driscoll Group a total of $62,162.45 combined in 2014.

In other words, Huntsville City Schools paid The Driscoll Group $6,000.00 more for his services than he earned from running all three of their campaigns. These “OTHER PROF SERVICES” were more than three times as much as a typical school board campaign.

What Are the “OTHER PROF SERVICES?”

So what exactly did The Driscoll Group do for Huntsville City Schools that would cost more than running three other campaigns?

Was it Advertising? If so, what was he being paid to promote? And why would we need to pay for him to promote it? All the the district needs to do for free advertising is send out a press release or promote it on their own TV station. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of advertising coming out of the district.

Was it Public Relations? If so, in what way is it a justifiable expense to pay The Driscoll Group for PR when the district has at its beck and call Rena Anderson (Director of Community Engagement whose primary job seems to be public relations), Keith Ward (Board Spokesperson and director of eTV), five board members, hundreds of central office employees, and thousands of principals and teachers all of whom are required to actively promote Huntsville City Schools. And this doesn’t even consider how often Mayor Battle comes around to promote something for Wardynski.

Was it Political Strategy? If so, why would the district need a political strategist? And if he were hired as a political strategist, what politics were being strategized? Were McCaulley, Robinson, Ferrell, and Wardynski meeting with Mr. Driscoll in his office in the Old Times building on September 3, 2014? Were they all coordinating a political strategy with HCS throwing in about 3oK to promote it’s “Everything is Awesome” message? If so, why would public funds, enough to pay for two teachers for a year, be used to do this?

Wardynski clearly cared about the outcome of the school board races.

So why was The Driscoll Group paid $68,165 over the past year?

I’m not expecting any answers to this question anytime soon.

In case you think I’m being unfair in my low expectations, I’m still waiting for answers to questions I started asking Ferrell and Jason Taylor four months ago. (Not to worry. I’m patient.)

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

9 Comments

  1. I keep wanting to say that I’m astounded, but why should I say that? After what this board has done just in the past year, nothing should surprise me.

  2. Oh, I don’t think the state senate race was a referendum on David Blair.

    But his record on the school board certainly was material in evaluating what kind of state senator he would make. And being president of a school board that got itself into such financial trouble that the State School Board had to come in and fix the finances certainly isn’t a ringing endorsement of Mr. Blair’s abilities. And since it was the State School Board that fixed the finances, Mr. Blair gets 0 credit for the fix, despite what Mr. Driscoll says.

    And too, Mr. Blair is partly responsible for the initial and continued employment of Mr. Wardynski. The superintendant for whom the judge overseeing the redistricting case had some not-so-flattering things to say about, to name one example of Mr. Wardynski’s poor fit for his office.

  3. Thank you Russ for bringing this to light. In addition to the concerns you raised, I’d like to add several others – have proof of them all. The Driscoll group consistently uses “negative, fear mongering” messaging especially when the reality of what is happening in HCS is being exposed. David D. was intimately involved in the first rezoning debacle. The campaign mailers produced from his organization border on racist. He sends fake text messages to himself and emails to others to smear innocent peoples character. Why would HCS employ this kind of individual to represent an organization educating children? Just sad!

    Russ – take note of the NEW POLICY – Public Requests for Information on the Jan 27 BOE meeting agenda.

    1. Well. That title for a new policy should clearly make the district’s activities FAR more transparent.

      So much for Ferrell’s “go to the source” suggestion.

  4. Russell – I think we just found out what some of this money goes towards.

    The Proposed Consent Order for the desegregation case was just released. Wardynski released a video statement re.

  5. Wouldn’t a political strategist have as his client a person or party seeking to prevail over his/hers/its opposition? So who does the BOE perceive to be its opposition?

    And if BOE member Culbreath is still sending his kids to private school, so much for Driscoll’s ad campaign.

  6. “Political Strategist” … paid with Taxpayer education funds? Are there no State laws regarding misappropriation of tax funds for private use, or conflict of interest, or State Ethics Regulations regarding Elections ??? Maybe we need a detailed explanation from HCS regarding the exact tasks covered by “other professional services”? Perhaps, Ms. Ferrell could provide an explanation for taxpayers … she seemed to have a great grasp of HCS expenditures prior to the election.

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