State reviewing alleged misconduct
CENTREVILLE — In response to appeals filed with the Maryland State Board of Education alleging the misconduct of Queen Anne’s County Board of Education President Jennifer George and members Annette DiMaggio and Arlene Taylor, the state board has provided the Queen Anne’s County board members with questions related to the remaining appeals, and a May 31 deadline in which to respond. According to Bill Reinhard, acting director of communications for the Maryland State Department of Education, the respondents are likely to do so in writing. The state board has no set deadline to complete its decision on the appeals, said Reinhard.
As state school board conducts its review, members of the community have continued to assure their voices are heard. A petition on change. org has garnered over 1,100 signatures and was received by the Attorney General’s office as of May 11, said Reinhard.
Susan Sparks-Sweitzer, who started the petition, has been vocal about her intention that the local board be held accountable and provide transparency to constituents. Sparks-Sweitzer said she believed the petition needed to be sent to the state board as a follow up to all the letters that have been written to them.
“We need to show that we all stand together and want action to be taken against these individuals,” said Sparks-Sweitzer. “Many [individuals] have included comments on the petition as to why they are signing it and what they hope to achieve with it.”
The petition, which is still gathering signatures online, states, “Dear Members of the Maryland State Board of Education, Please count my signature below as full support of the document, ‘Formal Request for Removal of Three Queen Anne’s County Board of Education members,’ dated April 29, 2016.”
None of the three is up for election this year. George, Taylor and DiMaggio’s terms run through 2018.
Only once in recent years has the Maryland State Board of Education taken action to remove a county board member from office. That case, involving a board member in Howard County, was decided in June 2011. The case brought against Allen Dyer alleged misconduct in office based on his release of confidential information to a third party, recording private discussions at a board retreat and posting them on the Internet and threatening to bring charges, terminate or publicly embarrass employees who opposed his views.
West’s Annotated Code of Maryland Education, effective January 7, 2007, § 3-10A02 on the Removal of Board Members, states grounds for removal may be constituted on the following: The State Board may remove a member of the county board for any of the following reasons: immorality; misconduct in office; incompetency; willful neglect of duty; or failure to attend, without good cause, at least 75 percent of the scheduled meetings of the county board in any one calendar year.
In the case in Howard County, Dyer was recommended to be removed from office. In the decision, it was declared that “a board member is unfit to be a member of the local board when his/her conduct involves substantial violation that are harmful to the local board’s functioning.”
In Dyer’s case, which was contested, the state board delegated the task to the Office of Administrative Hearings and the Administrative Law Judge to issue a final ruling.
“The responsibility of the ALJ to analyze misconduct is [according to the Opinion No. 13-30], “thoughtful, evenhanded and ... legally correct given the law governing misconduct in office.”
Misconduct in office under the Education Article does not require a showing of criminal misconduct, but may include malfeasance, which is doing an act that is wrongful in itself; and misfeasance, which involves doing an otherwise lawful act in a wrongful manner. The Court also found misconduct in office to include unprofessional acts, even though they are not inherently wrongful, as well as transgression of established rules ... and improper behavior, among other definitions.”
Voting not to renew the contract of the current superintendent of schools against public wishes is not action that has precedence of grounds for removal.
In fact, Maryland law is very specific regarding the authority granted to local school boards. “Boards of Education in Maryland, have sole hiring (and firing) authority; that’s the law,” said Stephen C. Bounds, director of Legal and Policy Services, Maryland Association of Boards of Education.
According to Maryland Election Law there is no precedence for a recall vote to remove a school board member(s) or any elected official from their elected position. “There is no Maryland provision that provides for the recall of local officials. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a listing of states with statutes related to recall of local officials. Maryland is not listed,” said sources at the Maryland Law Library.
From left, Queen Anne’s County Board of Education members Beverly Kelley, Annette DiMaggio and President Jennifer George at the April 6 Board of Education meeting at Centreville Middle School.