Board of education gives nod to some new ethics policies
State commission has 60 days to respond to proposed changes
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.