Bill would allow Washington County Commissioners to fill school board vacancies

February 28, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS - Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, spoke Wednesday in favor of a plan that would give the Washington County Commissioners the power to appoint Board of Education members if there is a vacancy.

The bill was heard by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Myers called appointing board members a "local item," and said the bill has the support of the County Commissioners and many school board members.

Currently, the governor appoints someone to fill the vacancy after a recommendation is made from a local committee. This happened most recently in May 2007, when current Board of Education Vice President Donna Brightman was appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley to replace W. Edward Forrest after his resignation.

Washington County is one of six Maryland counties where the governor appoints someone to fill such vacancies, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services. In six other counties, either the county commissioners or the county council appoints individuals.


Myers was the only one who spoke during the hearing. However, when contacted by phone, other county officials appeared divided over the merits of the bill.

County Commissioner William J. Wivell said a majority of commissioners favored the bill.

"It lets local elected officials make the decision," he said.

School Board Member Wayne D. Ridenour said he also favors the bill, and said he would send an e-mail to Myers today offering his support. Ridenour said he supports the committee process that offers names to the governor, but said the ultimate decision should be a local one.

"The closer to home the decision is made, the better it is," he said.

County Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire does not support the bill, and said the current process of appointing board members is "not broken." He said it is possible that the bill was designed to give the Washington County Commission, which is a majority Republican body, the authority to appoint a Republican to the Board of Education, instead of leaving it to the Democratic governor.

Aleshire said the timing of the bill might be designed to take advantage of the possible shifting of local elected officials in the wake of Robert A. McKee's resignation as a delegate. McKee, who represented Washington County, is a Republican and resigned almost two weeks ago.

"If that is even part of the reasoning behind (the bill), I don't think that's appropriate," Aleshire said. "There's no need for the bill. So there has to be a reason for it at this time."

The Washington County Delegation, which Myers chairs, filed the bill about a month ago.

Aleshire, the only Democrat on the Washington County Commissioners, said he and Commissioner James F. Kercheval were the only commissioners opposed to the bill.

School Board Member Bernadette M. Wagner said she would have supported the bill if Washington County voters had adopted charter home rule.

"If we are capable of filling our own vacancies, then we're capable of home rule," she said. "I just think it's difficult to pick and choose what local government is capable of doing. Empower local government to make local decisions."

School Board President Roxanne R. Ober said the board is scheduled to discuss the bill at its March 4 business meeting.

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