One of my favorite moments of this baseball season occurred when Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels and Nats rookie Bryce Harper faced one another for the first time in the Major Leagues. In that first at bat, Hamels plunked Harper in the back.
Hamels later admitted that he was sending Harper a message: “Welcome to the big leagues, Kid.”
Then, Harper responded in the best possible way, with a message of his own. After advancing to third base on a single, he pulled off one of the rarest and most thrilling feats in baseball – he stole home.
Harper’s message for Hamels: “Mess with me and I’ll make you pay.”
Messages sent and received.
I remember when sending messages weren’t just about testosterone and macho posturing. Sending a message was something a castaway did after corking a note in a bottle. A message might be a series of dots and dashes tapped using a telegraph key. Or maybe it was a letter that a nine-year-old wrote carefully on lined notebook paper and mailed to a pen pal in Scotland.
But now “sending a message” has become SENDING A MESSAGE, one of the most overused clichés in sports.
Winning the first game in a series isn’t merely being victorious in that game, it is SENDING A MESSAGE. Or, just as bad, MAKING A STATEMENT.
In essence, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors was simply puffing out its collective chest and SENDING A MESSAGE last week when it approved a motion that gave fiscal guidance to the county administrator and Loudoun County Public Schools regarding next year’s budget.
The board directed the county administrator to present a budget three cents below the equalized tax rate, with all of the impacts of the three-cent reduction to be borne by the school system. The same “guidance” was provided to the school system in preparing its budget.
The problem with this is that the board of supervisors lacks the authority to tell the school board how big its budget request can be. Ashburn District Supervisor Ralph Buona, who made the motion, admitted as much.
He acknowledged that the school board is free to present its budget as it sees fit, and that the supervisors’ action was symbolic. He even admitted that three cents was an arbitrary reduction, and could just as well have been “x cents.”
But Buona and some of his colleagues said they were frustrated with the school administration. He made it clear that he was frustrated with the school staff, not the school board.
“I have total confidence in school board,” Buona said. “I don’t have total confidence in the administration to do what needs to be done to lead the School Board to the right conclusions.”
Buona said that the school staff had not been forthcoming with information requested by the Government Reform Commission, which the board appointed. Leesburg Supervisor Ken Reid said that the school staff was stonewalling the GRC.
Buona complained that the school staff had presented the requested information to the school board rather than the GRC. But this is hardly surprising, since the school administration reports to the School Board, not the GRC.
Broad Run Supervisor Shawn Williams agreed that the school administration had not been cooperative, and that the board needed to send the school staff a strong message to look for operational inefficiencies.
All of this messaging from the board really amounts to a bleat of frustration with the way government works in Loudoun County.
There is an inherent conflict between the school board and the board of supervisors. Members of both bodies are elected directly by the voters, but only one – the board of supervisors – has taxing authority. So every year the school board has to tell the board of supervisors how much money it needs to run the school system and hope for the best.
The board of supervisors is venting its frustration that it doesn’t control the school staff. Of course it doesn’t; the school board does. So it seems a little odd that the supervisors are bypassing the school board and sending their messages directly to the school staff.
We are left with the same standoff we see every year.
The board of supervisors has made its first pitch high and tight. The game will continue. More messages will be sent. And in the end, the board will have to hope that the game doesn’t end with its adversary circling the bases and stealing home.