Candidate School board issued warning

September 23, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A write-in candidate for the Washington County Board of Education has been warned to watch his behavior at the school board's central office or face being banned from the public building.

A June 29 letter from Chief Operating Officer William Blum to candidate Tom Janus said, "On numerous occasions of the last several months, various employees have reported behavior, by you, which they felt was threatening, intimidating or which interfered with their ability to perform their daily tasks. Most recently, on June 21, 2004, several employees reported that you entered their respective offices and demanded certain documentation in a 'loud,' 'demanding,' and 'belligerent' tone."

Blum ends the letter by saying, "Should the administration continue to receive complaints regarding your conduct and its interference with the normal operating functions of the school system, consideration will be given to the issuance of a 'no trespass' letter or contacting the police department, as deemed appropriate."


Janus, 62, of Hagerstown, ran for a seat on the school board in the March primary election, but failed to garner enough votes to be on the general election ballot. He finished 12th out of 14 candidates, and the top eight candidates advanced to the general election.

Janus filed on March 4 as a write-in candidate for the school board.

During Tuesday's school board meeting, Janus distributed a copy of Blum's letter, as well as Janus' response and an editorial cartoon.

Janus on Wednesday said he would not comment on his behavior or Blum's letter beyond what he said in the written statement.

However, Janus later described the situation as "an intimidating, scare-the-questioner-away approach" on the part of the school board.

In his written statement, Janus said, "One only has to review Bill Blum's letter to me to conclude that the administration prefers intimidating the person requesting information to dealing with tough questions about freedom of information."

Shulamit Finkelstein, executive assistant for strategic planning, board and community relations, said there is no attempt to intimidate Janus. The school system either provides public information requested or points people to where they can get the answers to their questions, she said.

While Janus said he considers the matter an issue of public information, Blum said it is an issue of appropriate behavior.

Blum said it was the first warning letter he's written in his two years with the school board.

"It is unusual but it is not unheard of," Blum said of the warning letter. "While they (the public) have access to us they do not have the right to treat the employees badly."

Blum and other school system officials would not identify which employees reported on Janus' behavior.

Janus said the written comments given to a reporter and the district's spokeswoman at Tuesday's meeting were remarks he would have made aloud during the citizens' comment portion of the meeting had he arrived in time for that part of the meeting. Instead, he left the meeting shortly after handing over the documents.

He said he thought the meeting started at 7 p.m. when it actually started at 6:30 p.m.

Janus said Wednesday the information he was requesting on June 21 was Maryland School Assessment scores for Washington County students in grades four, six and seven.

Deputy Schools Superintendent Patricia Abernethy on Wednesday said the Maryland State Department of Education had not provided that information to the county school system at that point and it was not released to the school system until a few months later.

"He wanted it when it wasn't available," Abernethy said.

Finkelstein said she told Janus that the school system did not have the information yet.

Janus said it was not until he talked to state education officials that he realized the information had not yet been given to the county school system.

In his statement Janus said, "A simple, accurate response telling me why the information was not yet available would have resolved the matter entirely. However, it was not forthcoming, and my attempts to obtain the information were not looked upon kindly."

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