Board of ed­u­ca­tion gives nod to some new ethics poli­cies

State com­mis­sion has 60 days to re­spond to pro­posed changes

The Enterprise - - News - By JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­[email protected]­news.com Weaver Twit­ter: @Jac­quiEn­tNews

St. Mary’s school board mem­bers agreed at a meet­ing last month to up­date por­tions of the pub­lic schools’ ethics panel poli­cies and send the rec­om­men­da­tions to the State Ethics Com­mis­sion for ap­proval.

As long as the state com­mis­sion does not dis­ap­prove the pro­posed changes, they “will be deemed to be ap­proved and be­come ef­fec­tive,” said Ed­mund Law, pub­lic schools’ gen­eral coun­sel.

One pol­icy change that was ul­ti­mately not in­cluded was the re­quire­ment of a sec­ond, no­ta­rized copy of a com­plaint if panel mem­bers deem it nec­es­sary. Rita Weaver, school board mem­ber, seemed to be adamant about re­quir­ing peo­ple to cor­rectly iden­tify them­selves if they want to sub­mit pa­per­work.

Panel mem­bers had met three times to dis­cuss a com­plaint that was dis­cov­ered to have “a fic­ti­tious name” and false ad­dress listed, Weaver said, adding that the clos­est ad­dress to the one listed in the com­plaint “is a va­cant lot.”

Law said he wasn’t able to dis­cuss the de­tails of the com­plaint she was re­fer­ring to, and sug­gested that the per­son who sub­mit­ted the pa­per­work “was a straw per­son … not a fic­ti­tious per­son.”

Weaver said she wanted a pol­icy that bet­ter mir­rors what the county has when sub­mit­ting com­plaints.

Jim Davis, school board mem­ber, sug­gested that the cur­rent pol­icy of hav­ing to sub­mit a com­plaint in writ­ing, un­der oath or af­fir­ma­tion and un­der the penal­ties of per­jury may not be enough to stop peo­ple from falsely iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves. He said he was “thun­der­struck” when he dis­cov­ered that peo­ple don’t have to present state-is­sued iden­ti­fi­ca­tion at vot­ing polls, and sug­gested that there are peo­ple in the county or the na­tion who vote il­le­gally de­spite po­ten­tially be­ing caught for the fed­eral of­fense. He said he “wasn’t sure the threat of per­jury is nec­es­sar­ily a de­ter­rent” for some­one to sub­mit a com­plaint to the school sys­tem’s ethics panel.

Karen Bai­ley, school board chair­woman, said it would be bet­ter to have a pol­icy re­quir­ing com­plaints be no­ta­rized prior to sub­mis­sion rather than “try to back up” if nec­es­sary.

Law said he didn’t want to in­clude the po­ten­tial pol­icy change,

“be­cause it might chill” those who would seek to file a com­plaint.

A pol­icy up­date that was in­cluded is al­low­ing ethics panel mem­bers up to 60 days from the date of a re­quest, like a com­plaint or an in­quiry, to be in­ves­ti­gated. Law said panel mem­bers would strive to ad­dress re­quests “as soon as rea­son­ably pos­si­ble.”

An­other pro­posed change would al­low for an ad­di­tional elec­tion of a vice chair­per­son, “to serve … in the same man­ner as the chair­per­son,” Law said.

An­other would re­quire that “an in­di­vid­ual whose fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure form was re­viewed or copied shall not re­tal­i­ate against the in­di­vid­ual mak­ing the re­quest.”

Dur­ing one of the pre­vi­ous dis­cus­sion about pol­icy changes, it was sug­gested that spouses of school staff should not be al­lowed to serve on the board. Law said this would “pre­clude a sub­stan­tial num­ber of qual­i­fied ap­pli­cants from serv­ing.”

Cathy Allen, school board mem­ber, said she ini­tially sug­gested this but “upon fur­ther re­flec­tion,” the pro­posed change would limit the num­ber of those who could ap­ply. Spouses of school staff still have the chance to ap­ply for the ethics panel and be se­lected if qual­i­fied.

State law re­quires that all Mary­land school sys­tems have an ethics pol­icy that es­tab­lishes stan­dards of con­duct for staff, of­fi­cials, school board mem­bers and po­ten­tial can­di­dates.

St. Mary’s panel has five mem­bers in­clud­ing chair­per­son Wayne Lockley, Robert Ert­ter, F.J. Tal­ley, Peter Neus and John Wal­ters. Law serves as the panel’s le­gal ad­viser. The panel is an ad­vi­sory board that han­dles tasks like cre­at­ing fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure state­ments, re­view­ing re­quests for ad­vi­sory opin­ions on a num­ber of top­ics and re­view­ing ethics com­plaints.

See www.sm­cps.org/ ethics for more.

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