Saturday, June 9, 2012

AACO School Board Nominating Commission Wrap-up for 2012

This year the Anne Arundel School Board Nominating Commission (SBNC) had two Board of Education (BOE) seats to fill, one at-large seat and one representing Legislative District 21.  Applications were due April 27, 2012.  Candidate hearings with Q&A were held on May 15 and May 23.  Election of nominees occurred on May 29.   The Governor must announce his choices by July 1. 
Those who pay attention to BOE politics probably know by now who “won.”  But the real news this year was the lack of news: the nominating process was over before it officially began (this pre-official nominating process is what political scientists call “the invisible primary”).  As I predicted in my May 8 article, Four Candidates, Two Open AACO Board of Education Seats, the four candidates who applied for the two open seats were all nominated.  Three candidates were nominated unanimously (Patricia Nalley, Elizabeth Leight, and Stacey Korbelak); the fourth (Tracey Warren), running for both open seats, was nominated for both seats by a margin of ten yes and one no. 
All the candidates had professional credentials, winsome stories as child advocates, government work experience, and basic BOE political smarts.  One of their most notable features was a studied lack of disagreement with each other.  Such behavior is rare in candidate debates for most political offices. 
Overall, SBNC members appeared to be very pleased with the candidates.  It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that the public hearings were a lovefest.
Barring an unexpected scandal, I believe it is a foregone conclusion that the winner of the at-large seat will be Ms. Nalley, the current BOE president.  Nevertheless, it wasn’t necessarily a mistake for Ms. Leight and Ms. Warren to run against her.  By law, the SBNC must nominate at least two individuals, even if it is clear which nominee is destined to win.  Any nominee who has been vetted by the SBNC with a high vote total is in a much stronger position to win a subsequent seat.
The winner of the District 21 seat is harder to predict.  Since both obviously have the necessary credentials, it may depend on the particular demographic mix the Governor thinks the BOE needs.   Retiring incumbent Eugene Peterson from District 21, for example, argued during public testimony that Ms. Warren should be selected for his replacement because she was a woman and black, a combination lacking on the BOE.  However, I’d place my bet on Ms. Korbelak, if only because Ms. Warren failed to get the vote of the SBNC’s Chair.  I don’t believe the Governor has ever chosen someone not approved by the Chair, who he appoints.
A Bizarre Incident
The most bizarre feature of election night on May 29 was the announcement that the SBNC would go into secret session in part to discuss the conflict of interest of one of its members.  While in executive session, I was told by a member of the AACPS Ethics Board that the conflict of interest involvedChristine Davenport, who is the SBNC member representing Legislative District 21 as well as the SBNC’s Vice Chair.  Ms. Davenport is a teacher-administrator who works for AACPS but has been on leave since 2010 when her conflict with AACPS began.  As reported in a May 8, 2012 story published in the Capital, in early May she filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the school system for discrimination.   (If you read the Capital story with the diligence demanded of a T.S. Eliot poem, I promise you will be richly rewarded.)
At no point did the SBNC mention publicly any of the details about the alleged conflict of interest, including the name of the individual involved.   This delicacy about disclosing potential conflicts of interest among representatives is discouraged in standard parliamentary procedure.
My first reaction to this announcement of a potential conflict of interest was to be stunned.  It seemed to me that the whole purpose of the SBNC was to give stakeholders both a seat at the table and a veto on the selection of SBNC candidates.  Similar conflicts also riddle the AACPS BOE, Citizens Advisory Committee leadership, and PTA leadership.  Indeed, one of the candidates, BOE President Nalley, has three family members currently working for AACPS and herself worked for AACPS for more than thirty years.  It seemed wholly out of character for the SBNC to be concerned with such niceties.  Moreover, the SBNC member in question had served on the SBNC since its beginning, and was reappointed this year by the Governor for another four year term, without her employment for AACPS raising a red flag.  Perhaps the fact that the SBNC member in question is apparently suing AACPS provided the additional incentive for the SBNC to become sensitive to the issue.  
I wondered: why did the Governor reappoint Davenport in February? And why did the SBNC apparently delay addressing the issue until the last possible minute?  These questions reminded me of the Governor’s appointment of Richard Stewart to his five member Redistricting Advisory Committee.  The day the Committee made its recommendations to redistrict Maryland legislative districts, Stewart resigned after pleading guilty to tax evasion.
The SBNC’s apparent concerns about conflicts of interest also reminded me of what was arguably the most notable feature of its May 15 question and answer session with the candidates.  What was remarkable is not what was asked but what wasn’t asked and answered.  None of the SBNC members asked President Nalley whether her three family members working for AACPS, or her own retirement benefits coming from AACPS, had ever posed a conflict of interest during her first five year term of office and might pose additional conflicts during her second term.  Nor did anyone raise the question that five of the eight current AACPS adult board members have an immediate family member working for AACPS (President Nalley, Vice President Andrew PruskiEugene PetersonSolon Webb, andKevin Jackson).
When Anne Arundel County Councilor Cathy Vitale had a husband who worked for the Anne Arundel Fire Department, I recall that she occasionally recused herself from votes and regularly asked for ethics opinions about whether particular votes might pose a conflict of interest.   This information was regularly published in the Capital, and it seemed to me that any constituent who was paying even a little bit attention knew about it.
The same cannot be said for AACPS. As of May 29, 2012, only Eugene Peterson and Andrew Pruski mentioned that a family member works for AACPS on their board profiles published on the AACPS website.  (Mr. Peterson also regularly mentions that his daughter works for AACPS during BOE meetings).  I have never seen these potential conflicts mentioned in the Capital (or the hiring of BOE member relatives while BOE members were in office).  And in an informal survey I did of Anne Arundel delegates to the Maryland General Assembly, as well as parental activists within AACPS, I was shocked to find not a single one who could tell me which BOE members had family members who worked for AACPS. Most thought that fewer than two Board member had such conflicts and at least one could not name a single one.
Coping With AACPS’s PR Nightmare
It would, of course, be a PR nightmare for the BOE if one or more BOE members routinely could not vote because of conflicts of interest.  But there is also a public interest rationale justifying not raising the issue at BOE meetings: if it were raised, the BOE would occasionally not have enough members for a quorum to conduct its business, or at least to conduct its business with what a reasonable person would consider an adequate democratic representation.  And faced with the needs of a public body to conduct its business versus the needs of members to recuse themselves because of conflicts, the former must always trump the latter.  Since Cathy Vitale only represented a single individual on the County Council, such balancing concerns would not have been relevant in her case.
I asked Ms. Leight, a member of the AACPS Ethics Board, why her Board never dealt with BOE conflict of interest issues.  She replied it was because the Board only addresses signed, written ethics concerns.  If AACPS employees or parents aren’t willing to sign their names to such ethics concerns, then the Board must act as though they don’t exist.   I did not ask Ms. Leight if she was familiar with any potential conflicts of interest that would have warranted BOE member recusal on a particular vote.
In my judgment, one of the greatest impacts of BOE conflicts of interest has been to help turn Bob Mosier, the AACPS Public Information Officer, into the second most powerful person in AACPS.  Normally, one of the greatest and most used powers of a school board member is use of the so-called bullypulpit to frame issues for public consumption.   I believe the BOE leadership has forgone that power partly because it would be too embarrassing if a media outlet properly acknowledged that the speaker might have a conflict of interest. 
BOE members might have little to fear about such attribution from the Capital, which usually does little more than slightly rewrite AACPS press releases.  Indeed, sometimes I wonder if Mr. Mosier somehow retains the editorial powers he had when he was a Capital reporter and editor.  But if a controversial story with a BOE member quote were in play, it would be hard to prevent the Washington Post orBaltimore Sun from picking it up.  Then the Capital would face competitive pressure to provide journalistically appropriate attribution as well.   In sum, letting Mr. Mosier take on the commentator role usually played by BOE members has probably been a smart political move—but it also greatly weakens the BOE as a democratic/representative institution.
Fortunately, I believe the SBNC has come to recognize that the current situation is too stressful to continue: there are simply too many BOE members with conflicts of interest.  The current situation was created step-by-step, naturally, over the last five years.  But the political danger has grown too great.   Imagine the danger if all eight adult BOE members had blatant conflicts.  Such a situation is politically unthinkable.  Thus, during the last few years, the SBNC appears to have gone out of its way during the invisible primary not to encourage individuals with such conflicts to submit an application for open board seats.  This year and last not a single such individual applied.   This I consider a shrewd political move and a sign of the SBNC’s growing political maturity.   Next year, for the first time in many years, the number of BOE members with blatant conflicts of interest will decline.
Let me clarify that I don’t believe having a spouse, child, or other close relative working for AACPS should, per se, disqualify one from serving on the BOE.  (It is standard for state constitutions and municipal charters to ban legislators from simultaneously holding executive office, but family members are generally excluded from such bald prohibitions.) What I’m only advocating for is that all such conflicts should be regularly disclosed, when appropriate, before BOE votes, in newspaper articles, and during SBNC Q&A.  
Moreover, the aggregate number of BOE members with such conflicts should also be routinely disclosed.  Balance is important here.  Just as it is important for the BOE to have a representative balance of whites and blacks, and males and females, it is important to have a representative balance of producer and consumer interests.  The difference is that the above mentioned types of descriptive representation have been self-evident, whereas it is clear to anyone who has been paying attention that the balance of producer and consumer interests has not. 
The political relevance of the issue is manifested by the extreme sensitivity to raising it in public.  Not only was the SBNC’s silence on this issue as loud as a nuclear bomb going off at Riva Road, but at various points during the televised Q&A the obvious answer for President Nalley was to mention her family’s direct involvement in the schools.  Whereas the other candidates seemed to brag about every little connection their families had with the schools, President Nalley’s much more impressive credentials went unmentioned. (In her application, however, she did answer in response to a question about her experience with AACPS that “two relatives” work for it; the third unmentioned relative, I believe, is only a niece or nephew). 
County Councilman Jerry Walker’s Entrance
County Council Vice Chair Jerry Walker’s entrance midway into the candidate Q&A on May 15 raised my eyebrows.  The audience for the Q&A included a majority of current school board members, relatives of the candidates, and up to three unaffiliated parents.   Walker walked up to each school board member with a big smile and shook his or her hands.  He then did the same with SBNC members during a brief break in the meeting.  Overall, it felt to me like a campaign appearance.  Upon reflection, it struck me as the way a smart county councilor would behave if he was seriously considering a run for county executive.
SBNC Transparency
The SBNC appears to have finally joined Maryland’s Open Meetings Compliance Board in treating Maryland’s Open Meetings Act—or at least parts of it—as a joke.  It has reached the point where it barely bothers anymore even to justify its noncompliance.  (Note: several years ago I wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about Maryland’s mislabeled Open Meetings Compliance Board.)  As of June 7, 2012, only one of the five SBNC public meetings held this year had minutes posted on the SBNC website.  Moreover, controversial information is systematically underreported.  Consider the only set of minutes published so far during 2012.  There is no mention of the Q&A regarding my request to find out how much the State of Maryland has paid the SBNC’s counsel.  Since the SBNC was originally promoted as costing the taxpayers nothing, a highly paid counsel attending SBNC meetings is newsworthy. 
But my biggest complaint with the SBNC’s transparency policies involves a purely legal practice.  In George Orwell’s classic book, 1984, history is whatever is politically convenient at the moment.  In the age of printed documents, erasing and rewriting history was relatively difficult.  But in the new online world, it has become a breeze: you just have to change a web page and nobody will know the difference.  Again, under Maryland law, all this is perfectly legal, at least insofar as the information manipulation involves dates of publication, public documents not formally approved at public meetings, or the elimination of online public access to public documents. 
I’ve complained about such practices numerous times during previous years.  This time I’ll mention just one fairly trivial instance that nevertheless was a great annoyance to me trying to report accurately on the SBNC.  By April 27, all applications to the SBNC were due.  In response to an email query from me late the following week regarding the delay in posting the applicants’ names, the SBNC’s Chair replied that the list of applications would be posted on the SBNC’s website on May 7.  On May 7, the SBNC indeed listed the applicants on its website.  On May 8, the SBNC added without notice a new applicant for District 21.  On May 9, it also added that applicant for the at-large seat.  And then it subsequently, also without any notice, removed both names from the website.
CAC Update
On other news relating to the citizens’ voice in AACPS, the chair of the Countywide Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) resigned in May 2012, nine months into her two year term of office.  The chair was elected in an uncontested election in September 2011.  The 2011-12 academic year was the first year the new top-down structured CAC was implemented.  This follows a bare quorum of CAC members attending the CAC’s May meeting, plus many CAC member resignations over the course of the year.  Fortunately, the embarrassing first year for the newly reconstituted CAC may be leading AACPS to reduce its top-down vise grip on the organization. 
Nevertheless, I doubt the CAC will be conducting televised debates with the BOE candidates on the ballot this fall.   As readers may know, BOE members appointed by the Governor must face a retention vote at the first general election after they are appointed.  When Tom Frank, the CAC Chair, attempted to conduct such a debate during the last General Election in 2010, when four BOE members were on the ballot, he received a certified letter from BOE President Nalley that he would not be allowed to do so.  The retention election was originally sold to the public as one of the great democratic features of the new BOE election system passed in 2007.   But it now receives far less press coverage and public attention than even the most obscure items on the ballot.   Given that the newly reconstituted CAC has been arguably even less unconflicted than the BOE, it may lack the democratic legitimacy to pull off a credible candidate forum.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Four Candidates, Two Open Anne Arundel County Board of Education Seats

My column in the Patch (click here to go to the article; also copied below).
This year the Anne Arundel County School Board Nominating Commission (SBNC) must nominate candidates for two open seats on the Anne Arundel County Board of Education.  One seat is at-large, the other for legislative district 21.  For each seat, the SBNC must nominate at least two candidates, from which the Governor must pick one by July 1, 2012.

On April 27, the candidate applications were due.  On May 7, the SBNC disclosed the results.  Three candidates are running for the at-large seat; two for the District 21 seat.  One candidate is running for both the at-large and district 21 seat.  The SBNC will vote on the candidates on May 29 and hold public hearings regarding the candidates on May 15, 23, and 29.

However, it is my judgment that the two winning nominees for each position can already be inferred with great certainty.  Since the SBNC is legally required to nominate two names for each seat and District 21 only has two candidates, both can expect to be nominated.  The expected District 21 nominees are Stacy Korbelak and Tracey Warren.

The at-large seat nominally has three candidates but one, Tracy Warren, is also a candidate for District 21.  Although it is conceivable that the SBNC could nominate the same individual for both seats, I very much doubt in this case that that would happen.  The expected at-large nominees are Patricia Nalley and Elizabeth Leight.

Ms. Nalley is the current president of the Board of Education, and I consider her to be a shoe-in to be reappointed by the Governor.  However, Ms. Leight is not being foolish running for the seat, which she is certainly smart and well-connected enough to know she has no chance of winning.  Ms. Leight has paid her dues and would be a good representative for the Hispanic community, which is currently unrepresented on the Board of Education.  She will be nominated, and this will get her name out there and put her in an excellent position to be renominated when she doesn’t face an invincible opponent.

It is noteworthy that Ms. Leight originally planned on running for the District 21 seat.  However, she lived in the old District 21.  After the current decennial legislative redistricing cycle, she no longer lives in District 21.  At first it wasn’t clear whether the old or new District 21 lines would apply for this election.  But Maryland’s Attorney General has apparently recently issued an opinion to the SBNC that the new lines apply.

The two candidates for District 21 are relative unknowns compared to President Nalley and Ms. Leight.  They both have adequate credentials, so to succeeed they will have to prove to the key SBNC stakeholder groups that they can be trusted.

All four candidates either work for government or work in government relations.  President Nalley worked for AACPS for more than 30 years before retiring (she also has three relatives who work for AACPS); Ms. Leight works for the Society of Professional Benefit Administrators as its Director of Government Relations and Legal Affairs; Stacy Korbelak works at Howard Community College as an Assistant Professor of English; and Tracey Warren works in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs as an attorney.

On April 19, I attended the SBNC’s public hearing to discuss administrative matters.  Eight SBNC members attended plus the SBNC’s counsel. Two commissioners were absent.  One remains unappointed by the Governor despite a term that expired last December.  Two members of the public attended, myself and future candidate Leight.

Chairman Greene said that he had requested and was expecting an opinion from the Attorney General’s office regarding the effect of redistricting on candidate residency requirements; in particular, whether the residency requirement for District 21 would be the 2002 lines or the lines newly enacted in 2012.  Commissioner Payne asked that the Attorney General opinion also clarify the status of sitting board members who have been redistricted out of the district their seat represents.  (No mention was made of the citizens or potential candidates in Anne Arundel County who don’t live in any of the five legislative districts recognized in the statute creating the SBNC.)

Chairman Greene announced that the SBNC had received three complete applications, two for the District 21 seat and one for the at-large seat.  He observed that under the law the SBNC had to provide two names for each opening, so this was potentially a problem unless someone stepped forward to apply for the at-large seat.

As for a communications strategy, Chairman Greene observed that they had failed to get a Capitalreporter for the last 2 years and thus would try the Patch.  (As someone who has attended the great majority of SBNC public meetings since it began in 2008, I can say that a Capital reporter has only attended half a dozen meetings and usually reported by either slightly rewriting press releases or interviewing the SBNC Chair for a quote.)  Commissioner Ebersberger suggested adding the Severna Park Voice and the Voices that have opened in Pasadena and Odenton because “they only publish good stories; they don’t chase stories.”  Commissioner Greene concluded that” we’ll try to place stories in the Patch and Voice as well as the Capital.”

The SBNC then turned to revising a proposed procedural manual, a task that occupied the bulk of the meeting.  Unfortunately, the commissioners spoke to each other in whispers with their mics turned off.  They also did not make a copy of the manual available to the audience.  After about fifteen minutes of this, I quietly went up to Ms. Davis, the SBNC’s counsel, and asked to see the draft copy of the procedural manual from which the SBNC members were working.  She refused to get me a copy.  Eventually, I decided to interrupt the SBNC meeting by asking that commissioners speak so the audience could hear and also provide the audience with a copy of the draft procedural manual.  I was then provided with a copy but also told that I would not be allowed to speak again until public comments were allowed at the end of the meeting.

During public participation, I informed the SBNC that SBNC minutes for 2011 were still missing on the SBNC’s website.  Currently, fewer than half the minutes from 2011 public meetings could be found on the SBNC’s website.  I also noted that the website link to press releases/news, including meeting notices, was completely blank (as of May 7, it still was).  Chairman Greene replied that he had repeatedly tried to get money from Maryland’s General Assembly for such purposes and had been refused.  AACPS (its Public Information Office), not the SBNC, was responsible for maintaining the website and thus for any missing information.  (Of note, this finger pointing has been going on now for five years, with apparently no one taking responsibility for the fact that the SBNC has made a mockery of Maryland’s open meeting laws; last January I testified about this problem, apparently to no effect, before the Maryland Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.)

I observed that I had received notice of the SBNC’s April 19 meeting on the afternoon of April 16.  I then attempted to poll the SBNC commissioners, from left to right sitting on the dais, how many days notice they felt was required under Maryland’s Open Meetings Act for non-emergency public meetings such as the SBNC’s meetings.  In order, Ray Leone said five days, Kory Blake said “I cannot give a number,” Christine Davenport said 2 days, Joshua Greene said 48 hours and reminded the remaining commissioners that they were under no obligation to answer me.  Christopher Mirenzi said 48 hours, Yevola Peters said “no opinion,” Lee Payne said 48 hours, and Arthur Ebersberger said 48 hours.
I was near the end of my allotted five minutes so did not pursue the matter.  But for the record, the SBNC’s own bylaws require ten days notice: “The time and place of these meetings shall be determined by the Commissioners and notice thereof shall be given at least ten (10) days prior thereto to the Commissioners and the Public by a means that will provide the greatest opportunity for the Public to attend and where appropriate, participate in the same.”  Maryland’s Open Meetings Act in fact specifies no specific number of days for notice, requiring only “reasonable advance notice.”  Since Maryland’s Open Meetings Compliance Board does not take this notice requirement seriously (or other similarly vague requirements in the Open Meetings Act), the SBNC could probably have gotten away with just one day’s notice.

Finally, I asked the SBNC commissioners to tell me the annual compensation of Ms. Davis, their counsel.  They all replied that they didn’t know.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Anne Arundel School Board Nominating Commission Sets Agenda for Filling Two Vacancies

My column in the Patch (click here to go to the article; also copied below).

On the evening of Feb. 22, 2012 the Anne Arundel School Board Nominating Commission (SBNC) met to plan its procedures for the 2012 Anne Arundel Board of Education (BOE) election cycle.  This was its first meeting for both its 2012 session and the four year terms of office for its five gubernatorial appointees. 
The SBNC is composed of eleven commissioners: five appointed by the Governor (each from one of the five legislative districts in Anne Arundel County), one appointed by the County Executive, one apponted by the Anne Arundel Community College, and four appointed by private stakeholder groups (the Chamber of Commerce, PTA, teachers’ union, and school administrators’ union).  The four year terms of the five gubernatorial appointees expired last December.  
On Feb. 6, 2012 , the Governor reappointed four of his previous appointees and filled the fifth seat, a vacancy, with Kory Blake, Chair of the Anne Arundel Democratic Central Committee and staff representative at AFSCME, the union that represents custodial, food service, bus driver, and other support workers in the school system.
The SBNC nominates candidates for the BOE. For each open position, it nominates two individuals, from which the Governor must select one.   Candidates require the votes of at least eight of the eleven SBNC commissioners to be nominated.
Three people were in the audience in addition to myself:  BOE member Andrew Pruski, SBNC’s legislative counsel, and a member of the BOE Ethics Panel. 
Of the five gubernatorial appointees, two attended the meeting.  One of the missing three, Konrad Wayson, representing District 30, informed the SBNC that he did not want to serve a second term. The Governor is seeking recommendations to fill this open seat.
The board meeting started by approving the minutes from its May 17, 2011 meeting when the SBNC voted on candidates for the 2011 election cycle.  This meant that to find out how each SBNC member voted on the previous round of candidates, as opposed to the immediate announcement of the winners, one would have had to wait more than nine months.  As of Feb. 23, 2012, no minutes for the SBNC's 2011 meetings had yet been posted on its website.  No mean accomplishment, this was the worst track record for timely posting minutes of the SBNC's four year track record.  I expect these minutes will be retroactively posted in the near future.
This year there are two openings for the BOE.  Eugene Peterson, representing District 21, has served two terms and cannot serve again.  BOE Chair Patricia Nalley, representing the entire district with an at-large seat, is up for reappointment. 
According to an opinion from Maryland’s Attorney General, Ms. Nalley, as an incumbent BOE member, is automatically nominated for another term and thus need not go through the SBNC process, which was the SBNC’s previously mandated procedure.  However, via the BOE’s attorney, she has informed the SBNC that she intends to follow precedent and go through the nominating process.  Given that it is widely understood that Ms. Nalley has no chance of losing, it’s not clear to me why this is an efficient use of the SBNC’s time.
Unlike last year, when the SBNC decided to hold no field hearings for the candidates, this year the SBNC decided to hold field hearings for both candidates.  It is not unusual for only a few people to attend such hearings, especially if it is a hearing that SBNC and BOE choose not to promote aggressively.
Candidate applications are due by April 27, 2012.  Field hearings are tentatively planned for March.
The SBNC’s Chair promised to post all the legal opinions from the office of Maryland’s Attorney General concerning the laws regulating the SBNC on the SBNC’s website.  These opinions determine how the statute creating the SBNC should be interpreted.  In the past, only some of these opinions were publicly posted.   The SBNC chair also said that he continues to hope to write up a manual describing SBNC procedures, which are now scattered in dozens of different places including statutes, attorney general legal opinions, bylaws, minutes, and past precedent. 
For the first time at an SBNC meeting in several years, the Chair announced he would take public comments concerning SBNC procedures.  He also announced he would take public comments at all future meetings.  I was the only person to take advantage of this opportunity. 
I thanked the SBNC for allowing public comments and responding to my recent complaint before a Maryland Senate committee about the SBNC’s ban on public comments at its public hearings, except during the candidate hearings when the public is allowed to comment on the character of the candidates.   Given the poor drafting of the General Assembly’s statute creating the SBNC, it was a wild ride during the SBNC’s first four years figuring out what the General Assembly meant and filling in the many loose ends.  My guess is that the Attorney General’s office spent tens of thousands of dollars on legal consultations to help figure out the law.  All this confusion should have been a reason to allow rather than ban public comment.
I then asked the Chair to whom he sent the February 13, 2012 press release announcing the February 22, 2012 SBNC meeting.  He said the School System’s Public Information Officer.  I said I hadn’t received email notice of the meeting until yesterday, one day prior to the meeting.  Given 1) my numerous prior complaints to the SBNC about inadequate notice, 2) a ruling on the SBNC’s inadequate notice by Maryland’s Open Meetings Compliance Board, and 3) the Chair’s previous promise to me to send me proper notice (seven days notice is generally considered proper in Maryland), I felt I had a right to be upset about one day notice.
I also reported that on the evening of Monday, Feb. 20, I had checked the SBNC’s website (as I had done many prior weekends on the advice of my House of Delegates Representative who said that checking on the SBNC’s website was the most reliable way of finding out about its future meetings) and found no notice of the meeting.  But I checked again on Feb. 22, 2012, and it was there.   The problem was that the website notice was dated Feb. 13, 2012, which was misleading because the notice clearly wasn’t posted on the website on that date.  Unfortunately, I had found such backdating of notice and other public documents to be common BOE and SBNC procedure. 
The SBNC Chair said it was not his fault.  He had asked General Assembly members for a budget to operate the SBNC and they said no.  Thus, he was dependent on the School System’s Public Information Office for notice.  If the Public Information Officer didn’t post the information on the SBNC’s website, it wasn’t his fault.
I replied that the Public Information Officer’s job is to do PR on behalf of the BOE and that it is inappropriate for the SBNC to rely on him.  The PR officer will heavily promote open positions for the BOE, and in a timely way,  only when it is in his interest to do so.  He will also put people on and take them off his announcement emails depending on his assessment of whether their receiving the information is helpful or not to the message he is promoting.   Thus, giving the PR office such control is like taking control of the ballot from the Board of Elections and giving it to the incumbent candidates. 
I closed by explaining the fundamental democratic principle called the “veil of Ignorance.”  This is the temporal dimension to the principle that laws should apply equally to all, a principle emblazened on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court’s building.  According to the veil of ignorance, electoral procedures should be determined prior to knowledge of the specific candidates that they would affect.  For example, every serious democratic theorist agrees that choosing a presidential succession process in case of the death of the president should be done prior to the death of a president, when the identities of the potential successors are not known.  I noted that unfortunately the SBNC had made it a practice to do exactly the opposite: wait until candidates were known and then adjust procedures to the candidates.   I applauded the SBNC’s Chair for his stated desire to consolidate SBNC procedures, including PR procedures, in a manual.  This I felt would go at least some way toward addressing this problem, as well as realizing another key democratic principle, which is that citizens should be able to have reasonably easy access to the laws under which they are governed.
The one issue I didn’t raise is what to do with all the new legislative districts in Anne Arundel County that are expected when the General Assembly passes the new decennial legislative redistricting plan, which must be done by Feb. 25, 2012.  I’m sure that no incumbent politician created that plan with consideration about how it would affect the SBNC.  I expect a new round of attorney general legal opinions, probably in conflict with earlier ones,  as the SBNC and the public comes to grip with the legal and practical implications of the redistricting. 
--J.H. Snider is a former chair of the Anne Arundel Countywide Citizen Advisory Committee.  He has been covering the SBNC since the General Assembly created it in 2007.  For past coverage, see