Main Street Journal
April 16, 2012
Before she was a candidate challenging Steve Cohen in the Democratic primary for U.S. House in Tennessee’s 9th District, Tomeka Hart was a member of the Memphis City School Board and one of two main proponents of surrendering the school system’s charter.
In December of 2010, Hart led the city school board to a 5 to 4 decision in favor of surrendering the charter and forcing a merger with the Shelby County school system, just 48 days after Memphis and Shelby County voters overwhelmingly rejected consolidation between Memphis City and Shelby County government.
Earlier that summer, however, Hart was assuring skeptical suburban voters that a vote for government consolidation was not a vote to merge the two school districts. As co-chair of the pro-consolidation group Rebuild Government, Hart recorded this little-known video (only 18 total views).
Looking directly into the camera, Hart says, “in the form that is being discussed now, and that will be on the November ballot, the school systems are not affected and they will remain separate entities should metro government be successful.”
The push for a metro government failed, but Hart and her allies continued with phase two, their plan to unilaterally merge the two school systems, what the New York Times said would be “the largest school district consolidation in U.S. history.”
Now Shelby County voters wait to see if the Republican-led state government allows them to vote to opt out of the consolidated system and form their own municipal school districts.
Meanwhile, Hart and the Democrats are working to block the referendums, deny county residents the use of their own school buildings, scare voters with sensational tax figures, threaten suburban leadership with legal action and create a myriad of other obstacles.
Hart’s involvement with the consolidation movement goes back a long way.
When she first decided to run for the Memphis City School Board, Hart was taken under the wing of political activist Darrell Cobbins, co-founder of New Path, a “non-partisan political action committee (PAC).” In 2004, Hart became the PAC’s first endorsed candidate. In a statement on the PAC’s website, Hart says Cobbins and his team “combined to create a very powerful and well-run political machine” and that she is “certain that I owe all of my success to the resources provided by New Path.”
Cobbins and Hart later served as contributors to Sustainable Shelby while AC Wharton was county mayor, and both became co-chairs of Wharton’s campaign for Memphis mayor in 2009.
The next year, Cobbins was appointed chairman of Rebuild Government and soon “approached a variety of community members, including school board member Tomeka Hart.”
At first the group feigned neutrality, producing the Commercial Appeal’s February 7, 2010, headline: “Rebuild Government says it isn’t a merger advocate.” But by October of that year, another CA headline read: “Coalition to Rebuild Government raises $500,000 to push consolidation.”
It’s bad enough that Tomeka Hart, Darrell Cobbins and Rebuild Government misled Shelby County residents about the group’s true position on metro government and attempted to conceal their donor list. It’s even worse that Hart would tell voters their schools would be safe from their odious schemes.