Thursday, March 4, 2010

SBNC Update

The Anne Arundel County School Board Nominating Commission (SBNC) met to discuss administrative matters on Monday, March 1 at the Anne Arundel Community College.

Ten of the eleven commissioners were present.  Commissioner Wayson has so far missed the two SBNC meetings for this election cycle and continues his three year record of having the worst attendance record of the eleven commissioners.  No reason for his absence was provided.

Representing the school administrators, Commissioner Kovelant resigned and was replaced by Christopher Mirenzi. 

Commissioner Owens, who represents the PTA, announced she will be resigning after this election cycle. 

The audience included five people: two school board members, an expected candidate, the Capital reporter, and me.

The SBNC Chair announced that the SBNC will hold an executive (i.e., secret) session to deal with an opinion of Maryland’s Attorney General concerning school board member Pruski.  No date or reason for the executive session was provided.

Candidate applications will be due by April 30, and a modified candidate application will shortly be posted on the SBNC’s website.

The SBNC must submit names to the governor for two school board seats: districts 30 and 31.  However, most of the discussion focused on what to do about the district 31 seat currently held by School Board Member Carey.  Carey is eligible to be appointed for a second term and doesn’t need to go through the SBNC nominating process to have his name passed on to the governor.  But unlike School Board Member Melendez, who has informed the SBNC he will not seek another term, Carey has not announced his intentions.  Apparently, a number of candidates have been recruited to run for district 30, but potential district 31 candidates are waiting to find out what Carey plans to do before committing.  My perception is that the SBNC is happy with Carey and won’t recruit actively in district 31 unless Carey decides not to run.  However, if Carey decides to run or doesn’t announce his plans, there is some question about whether the SBNC will nevertheless have to submit the names of two nominees to the governor.  I got the sense that this requirement to find candidates to potentially compete against Carey was unwelcome.

The SBNC Chair announced that Commissioner Wayson informed him that he is looking at either Annapolis High School or Southern High School as the location for the district 30 field hearing.  There was no mention of the location for the district 31 field hearing.

In the only formal motion for this meeting of the SBNC, the SBNC unanimously passed a motion, without discussion, to move its operations to the Board of Education at 2624 Riva Road.  Riva Road will henceforth be the location of its mail box (its permanent physical location) and place for its hearings, except for field hearings.  One reason for preferring Riva Road over the Community College was access to Riva Road’s TV coverage.  The Board of Education has apparently decided to make not only its facilities available to the SBNC but also its personnel and equipment for televising meetings.  

From my perspective, this is a curious choice.  Boards of election, which only have the job of supervising elections, nevertheless often try to create a firewall between themselves and those they are expected to hold accountable.  In Anne Arundel County, for example, the Board of Elections, listed at 7320 Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie, is physically separate from the Arundel Center, and I don’t believe the County Executive would ever be allowed to physically control the election equipment.    Such firewalls may be merely symbolic, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist for a reason.  Given that the SBNC not only monitors the candidate selection process but also chooses the candidates, I would think it would be especially sensitive to appearances. 

One item that especially bothers me is that the school system’s PR office would apparently be given control of recording and making accessible the video records of SBNC hearings.  This wouldn’t bother me if the meetings, in addition to being cablecast, were webcast and made permanently available online and anonymously to the public.  But the school system has strenuously opposed proposals to do this in the past.   In today’s YouTuibe world, there is no reason why the SBNC shouldn’t insist that its meetings be webcast as well as cablecast and made accessible anonymously and permanently on the web.  Giving the PR office control over candidate information sets up an intrinsic conflict of interest.  [As an aside, it would be nice to have a clear, comprehensive, consistent, and formal written policy from the PR office posted and time stamped on its website regarding its policies for televising and making accessible any candidate debates, such as candidate debates for county executive.]

On the whole, I think it’s politically smart for the SBNC to begin televising more of its meetings, regardless of location.  The SBNC is made up of a lot of likable, smart folks who demographically match the general population.  I think they would make a good impression and help counter some of the negative coverage they have started to receive in the Capital.  Over the last three years, the difficult and potentially controversial decisions about how to interpret the legislature’s intent in setting up the SBNC have been made, so it should be relatively smooth sailing going forward.

The SBNC Chair announced he would put together a manual of SBNC procedures that included not only the SBNC’s bylaws but also its practices, many of them based on a series of opinions issued by Maryland’s Attorney General.

About ten minutes before the end of the meeting I started to raise my hand, and I probably had my hand up for about five minutes, including about 30 seconds at the end where I waived it quite vigorously.   The Chair decided to ignore me.  Since the meeting announcement stated that the SBNC would accept “no public testimony,” this might seem reasonable.  But I raised my hand not to submit testimony but to ask for clarification on several points of order, which under Robert’s Rules is a privileged type of motion.  If I had been recognized by the Chair, this is what I would have asked:

1)      The SBNC Secretary said she’d be posting a modified candidate application to the website.  But she didn’t describe the nature of the modifications, and I don’t recall the SBNC ever discussing such modifications in public.  Shouldn’t the SBNC discuss and vote in public on a modified candidate application? 
2)      The SBNC Chair mentioned that the SBNC would be holding an executive session to discuss an Attorney General opinion regarding School Board Member Pruski.  What exemption under the Open Meetings Act would be used to hold the executive session?

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