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GOLDMAN: Will Shonda Harris-Muhammed earn her PHD today?

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

by Paul Goldman

We know school board member Shonda Harris-Muhammed didn’t earn her PHD in the classroom: but she could earn one today from the University of Street Smarts. The resignation of Dr. Brandon as school chief gives Shonda a rare window of opportunity to get an even rarer second chance.

When all is said and done, only nine people have the legal right to pick the new school chief, namely the members of the School Board.

Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones’ handpicked school board chair, former aide Jeff Bourne, only won the job by a 5 – 4 vote over reformer Kim Gray.

And you got it: Shonda proved the fifth vote.

If you are the Mayor, then you got to be concerned over whether the five-person majority you helped put together (along with son Derek, a rising star on the School Board) will hold up through all the possible in-fighting over whom gets selected as the next School Superintendent.

Meaning: Shonda Harris-Muhammed has a big chip in the game. Potentially that is. She has to know how to play it.

So far, she hasn’t shown even a high school diploma worth of knowledge of the game.

First, she tried playing the victim of big, bad WTVR reporter Catie Beck.

She even hinted, at least to me, at being an African-American woman being singled out by some white….do I really need to play that song for you? As the saying goes, that dog don’t hunt.

Then Shonda tried to say whether she had a doctorate or even a diploma at all was none of anyone’s business but hers, a totally personal thing. As the saying goes in the classroom of the University of the Street; “Say what girl?”

The School Board made it plain: It was not only our business, but the people elected us to make it our business.

Bottom line: The School Board gave a week to come to her senses, naming today as the deadline for Shonda to either put up: or fess up.

So far, she has taken a third option: stonewall, figuring the issue will go away.

In that regard, she is like the woman in the song, Cleopatra, “The Queen of Denial.”

Still, this puts the Mayor and Mr. Bourne, along with Derek Jones in a tricky spot: they would prefer not to totally alienate Shonda. The four who voted for Ms. Gray: Glenn, Kristen, Mamie and of course Kim Gray herself are all highly respected in their communities. They got elected as reformers.

Admittedly, I have questioned whether they have been “all hat and no cowboy” so far, as the saying goes in Texas. On the budget, the answer is clear: They didn’t produce. So far, they have not articulated a reformist agenda.

The choice of the new School Chief is likely to be their best, perhaps only chance during their term, to keep their promise to the voters.

“Reform” is an easy word to toss around, hard to achieve. They will need an ally in the new School chief.

All of which brings us to Ms. Shonda Harris-Muhammed. BOTH factions on the School Board need a fifth vote: it is 4-4 without her vote.

So while those eight all need to show the community they will not tolerate Shonda pretending to be Doctor Harris-Muhammed, at the same time they can’t afford to forever alienate her either.

The Goldman Instant Analysis: If Shonda will plead “guilty with an explanation” [as the saying goes in Court] the other eight members have good and sufficient reason to give her a second chance, as opposed to keeping her at arm’s length.

If Shonda will therefore do the right thing – and make a heartfelt apology, saying in retrospect she did the wrong but offer a plausible reason [she was trying to get her PHD after all] – I believe her colleagues will be forced to give her a second chance.

Moreover, the Goldman view: I don’t believe in throwing stones if someone has the character to make a heartfelt apology in this situation. As they say, no one died, no one lost their life savings, and the embarrassment has been both public and full. She has already suffered the punishment.

To quote that great line from the movie about Seabiscuit, you don’t throw away a whole life just because it got broke a little. Shonda ran unopposed. So while she misled the public, it didn’t change the outcome of the election.

Moreover, in this instance, a heartfelt apology and plea to be given a second chance, can be a good example for our school children. You don’t want people to give up after a hard fall, as this is likely to happen to a lot of kids in our school system.

There are few of us who won’t need a second chance at some point. But Shonda has to earn it the way she needs to earn a PHD to be called doctor.

The New Jersey courts have ruled that I can be called Doctor if I so choose. I don’t because it doesn’t seem right to me. It is a personal choice.

The Mayor hired his chief administrative officer despite Mr. Marshall attempting to claim a graduate degree he didn’t have [I happen to actually have the very degree he claimed since it happens to come to the leading school in the subject area. He can have mind if he wants frankly.]

This misstep has not affected his ability to perform his job, nor is it an issue, or should it be today. He owned up to the situation and explained himself. Cool by me.

If Shonda will do the right thing – and show she has street smarts – then the Goldman view is: She gets a Get-out-of-Political-Jail free card, good for one trip only.

If at all possible in this life, one should get an opportunity to be judged on merit.

But today’s the day: Mr. Bourne gave her a week, I called it a strategic punt.

The week is up. She should take him up on his offer. Admit the self-evident, agree that the Board stop calling her doctor, and offer an explanation if only to say: There is no explanation. I was wrong, I apologize, and ask for a second chance.

At which point: Case over, move on.

If Pope John Paul II could forgive the guy who shot him, and Thomas More could forgive his friend the King who beheaded him, then I figure Goldy here can forgive someone who said she had a doctorate when she only has a Masters.

At which further point: Shonda can earn for herself a role in picking the new School Chief beyond just having a vote. Or she can force his colleagues to isolate her from any meaningful role. Moreover, they are not likely to allow her to have the deciding vote either. She will, in effect, have no role.

If she can’t make this easy and right choice, then she might get a PHD from an online school, but she will not even earn a GED from the school of street smarts here in Richmond.

Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR.  His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity.  Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.

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