Public Testimony of J.H. Snider
Before the School Board Appointment Commission of Anne Arundel County
July 27, 2017
My name is J.H. Snider, and I’m following up on my June 6, 2017 public testimony before this public body. At your June 19, 2017 meeting, the chair reported that there were no public comments regarding the proposed bylaws. I would like to correct the public record. At the June 6 meeting, I submitted extensive testimony on how to fix the School Board Appointment Commission’s procedures in light of the experience of the previous School Board Nominating Commission. I specifically asked the chair to submit that written testimony as part of the public record and she agreed. In that submission, I made several recommendations to amend the previous bylaws, including one that affected the chair’s excessive powers over information. None of my recommendations were implemented.
If the SBAC is interested in understanding why during its first six public meetings only two members of the public testified, the response to my June 6 testimony may provide a clue. People want to get the feeling that they are genuinely listened to as opposed to just getting a smile. Along those lines, I request that the minutes of the June 6 meeting be modified to disclose the submission on the public record of my substantial and expert written testimony concerning the SBAC’s procedures.
An irony here is that the chair was furious when I reported to the press that the previous commission had violated its own rules by not holding two public hearings before nominating school board candidates to the governor. She told me that I should have given her a heads up before releasing that information to the press and causing so much havoc. But for months I had asked the previous commission’s leadership for permission to present my procedural observations and couldn’t even get my emails returned, let alone get on the agenda. However, after the nominations were thrown into disarray because of the commission’s procedural violation, I was finally allowed to present my testimony, which I had written some six months before.
One last point: it is an essential design element of democracy that the people can detect material conflicts of interests among their representatives, including school board candidates. The law states that AACPS employees are ineligible to serve as school board members. But it leaves as a matter of ethics whether a school board member’s spouse, children, or other close relatives who work for AACPS present an unacceptable conflict of interest. Every conflict of interest disclosure system I know of for top government officials addresses such potential family conflicts. But SBAC’s application system ignores them. Candidates have usually not disclosed or highlighted this information in either their applications or public testimony. And the local newspaper, which merely summarizes how the candidates present themselves, has never disclosed this information.
Thus, this information should be included on the candidate application form.
To be fair, during its final years the School Board Nominating Commission did a good job of discretely addressing this conflict of interest problem. Notably, the school board went from a majority of adult board members with such conflicts to none today. That saved the school board from many potentially embarrassing situations, but the impact you should care most about concerns the public. The public should have the information it needs to assess whether the Board of Education is trustworthy. If potentially material information is hidden from them, they shouldn’t have that trust.
Lastly, I hope you will consider the use of ranked choice voting for the next round of applicants to this body. The system you will be using for this round provides improper incentives for insincere voting. You shouldn’t want to encourage such incentives for the next round of voting. More generally, there is a relatively high likelihood that with 23 candidates up for a vote the election won’t go the way many commissioners currently expect, as conventional American voting systems tend to break down with very large numbers of candidates. [Note that I didn’t expect to get to this last paragraph, as it would run over my three-minute limit. But the previous speaker took three minutes and 25 seconds, so I started a quick summary of this paragraph before being signalled that my time was up.]
Thank you for allowing me to testify today.
The testimony from June 6, 2017 can be found here.
Note that during the hearings two commissioners raised the conflict-of-interest issue for candidates with spouses or children working for AACPS: Jerry Klasmeier and Allison Pickard. Of the two, Klasmeier seemed more serious. In both cases, the candidates assured them that if there was a conflict they would recuse themselves, and this was the end of the discussion.