BOE makes Bartlett underdog

April 24, 2001

BOE makes Bartlett underdog

This is a kettle of fish. For no real reason other than to be an ornery cuss, I tend to stand up for the underdogs rather than the powerhouses, or the underlings rather than the overlords.

But what if the overlord is the underdog? In that respect, I don't know what to say about Herman Bartlett, up until now the Supreme Superintendent of the Union of School System Republics in Washington County.

Bartlett's technique in the school system was legend. Look at him cross-eyed and off you went to do hard remedial-English labor.

But early last week there came the hint of tanks rolling through the grounds of Commonwealth Palace. It was the dawning of the Hagerstown Spring.


Last week, The Herald-Mail ran a lengthy piece quoting several people who indicated that The Hermaninator was not exactly what is known in the business as a "consensus builder." Ideas and suggestions are subject to insult and abuse, they indicated.

Simultaneously, the paper reported that the Washington County Board of Education, Significant Point No. 1, was meeting secretly, and, Significant Point No. 2, had somehow neglected to invite Bartlett to their little clambake.

Then came word the board had hired a private investigator to look into the school system.

If the board feels free to meet secretly, the community always feels free to speculate as to why. And speculation was that the daggers were out.

The beauty of this is that in this whole mess the board made itself look a bit ridiculous.

Trying to find legal justification for meeting secretly, the board did more scrambling than a breakfast cook in a lumber camp.

Most all meetings by a public body, even secret meetings called executive sessions, must be advertised to the public - so when board Vice President Bernadette "Lady Macbeth" Wagner said this secret meeting was OK because it was "planned"...

Swing and a miss, strike one.

Up stepped board member Ed "Robespierre" Forrest, who, with reasoning that would have had Spinoza staggering like Michael Spinks against Mike Tyson, said that - I am not making this up - the meeting wasn't a meeting because it was not advertised as a meeting.

Swing and a miss, strike two.

With time running out in the ninth inning, board President Herb "Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell" Hardin shouldered the lumber and stepped to the plate. He said the meeting didn't have to be advertised because the board was carrying out an executive function "dealing with the internal workings of the school system and the School Board.

Later that day, he tried again, saying it was "a meeting with a person that wanted to talk with us."

Oh, somewhere the sun is shining, and somewhere children shout ...

With this board after him, you might have imagined Bartlett would feel incredibly safe. No wonder he withdrew from the running for a job in Tennessee. The chance of these blindfolded folks pinning the tail on the superintendent would appear to have a Pluto-like remoteness about it.

But now, citing "reasons," he has given up the ghost. Seems the school board was stupid like a fox. You have to love the subterfuge. They didn't hire an agency to investigate the school system. They used their attorney to hire an agency to investigate the school system.

Of course, considering what lengths board members are going to behind closed doors regarding the chief of the system, what couldn't they be doing behind closed doors regarding consolidation? All 19,000 county students in grades K-12 could end up in a henhouse in Smithsburg.

And finally, if the school board is to remember one thing, it should be this: Secret, closed-door meetings held four years ago is how the county wound up hiring Bartlett in the first place.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. E-mail him at

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