State board denies request to remove BOE members
The Maryland State Department of Education board declined to remove Queen Anne’s County school board members Jennifer George, Arlene Taylor and Annette DiMaggio. The opinions issued Tuesday, June 28, were in response to formal complaints filed by Queen Anne’s County residents.
BALTIMORE — The Maryland State Department of Education board declined to remove Queen Anne’s County school board members Jennifer George, Arlene Taylor and Annette DiMaggio. The opinions issued Tuesday, June 28, were in response to formal complaints filed by Queen Anne’s County residents.
The allegations made by 32 concerned residents, including Principal Angela Holocker and three other school system administrators, stated the three board members were in violation of the Open Meetings Act, including voting on the superintendent’s contract in a closed session without informing the public and failing to disclose minutes of the meeting; that they violated local ethics rules, by not explaining their decision regarding the superintendent’s contract, not having a plan to hire a new superintendent and being unable to properly run a public meeting; engaging in inappropriate dialogue and contact with the audience in public meetings and through social media, including remarks of a racist nature; and making threats against employees who spoke in favor of the local superintendent and suggesting principals and others who spoke in favor of the superintendent would lose their jobs in the school system.
Although all three board members acknowledged the local board violated the Open Meetings Act, the state board concluded, “the charges were not factually or legally sufficient to warrant removal of the board’s relatively new majority. By law, such action may be taken for such reasons as immorality, misconduct in office, incompetence and willful neglect of duty.”
The state board recognized this as a novel situation, “Although the statute establishes the removal power, we have not adopted regulations to further govern the process. In the absence of regulations, we have applied our appeal procedures, past precedents, and existing case law to guide the removal process. Going forward, we believe that regulations explaining our removal procedures would be beneficial for local board members and the public to establish a more formal order in the process, provide clarity to the public about what information should be contained in a removal request, avoid duplicative requests, and reduce the potential for abuse of the process.”
In George’s response to the state board she said, “I listened to the community, but those who disagree with our decision haven’t presented me with new information that would require me to change my vote . ... I made a decision for which I was elected to do and stand by that decision.”
A source of frustration expressed by many at the local board meetings in February, March, April and May was the lack of explanation from board members in their decision not to renew Superintendent Dr. Carol Williamson’s contract.
In DiMaggio’s response to the state board, she said, the school system’s “declining performance was a huge factor in my decision to make a change.” Although she did not place all of the blame for that on the superintendent, DiMaggio said, “I voted to make a change that I hope will change our school system for the better both in terms of fairness to students and personnel and in an increase in our performance in state rankings.”
DiMaggio also defended her comment about “unscrupulous” principals, stating that her comment was initially made in a private conversation and that she did not personally identify any specific principals.
The state board reprimanded DiMaggio for these social media posts as they showed a lack of professionalism. “Ms. DiMaggio would have been better served not to engage in back-and-forth discussions through social media or to post comments without fully considering the potential impact of her actions. Going forward, Ms. DiMaggio must understand that her conduct reflects not just on her, but on the board as a whole,” the State Board wrote in its opinion.
The state board also reprimanded Taylor for her use of the words “lily white” during a public meeting of the board. “We believe it was wrong for Ms. Taylor to use the phrase ‘lily white,’ regardless of her intentions. That type of language has no place in public discourse and we strongly condemn it. It is one thing for a public official to be concerned about a lack of diversity in the school system, but Ms. Taylor’s use of racially divisive language was inappropriate,” stated the state board opinion.
While the state board acknowledged the behavior of three board members was confrontational, unprofessional and problematic at times, they did not believe the incidents, taken together, provided a reasonable belief that “misconduct in office,” as it is defined, may have occurred. Misconduct in office is malfeasance or misfeasance.
The state board further advised those board members to be open, receptive, and respectful to the views of the public, especially when controversial decisions are being made.
Williamson’s last day as superintendent was June 30. Assistant Superintendent Greg Pilewski has been appointed interim superintendent until a replacement is found.
Queen Anne’s County Board of Education members Jennifer George, Annette DiMaggio, Arlene Taylor following their swearing in ceremony Dec. 2, 2014.