State re­view­ing al­leged mis­con­duct

Record Observer - - News - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­times.com

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.

HAN­NAH COMBS

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.

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