Addendum: After the hearing adjourned several commissioners came up to me and complained that I hadn’t given them a heads up that nominating candidates without first conducting two public hearings violated state law. This to me is a good example of chutzpah for the reasons described in my testimony below. They further suggested that by not giving them a heads up I was seeking publicity for myself, which I believe gives me more credit than I’m due. Although I had doubts at the January 7, 2016 hearing, it took me several days after it to reread the statute and become confident enough of my legal analysis to write the Washington Post op-ed. My public testimony that I refer to here from the Nov. 17, 2015 and Jan. 7, 2016 SBNC public meetings can be found here.
Public Testimony of J.H. Snider
Before the Anne Arundel School Board Nominating Commission,
Anne Arundel Center, Room 310, February 1, 2016
So far, my repeated efforts to retire from covering the SBNC have come to naught. In 2010, when I was Chair of the Countywide CAC, I practically begged to find a volunteer from among its 120 members to take over covering the SBNC. I got no takers. No one disputed that the Capital had done an abysmal job covering the SBNC. But filling in for the Capital’s dereliction of public responsibility was generally perceived to be a thankless job.
This fall I was determined to finally end my coverage after I was given the opportunity to share my reflections based on 8 years of attentively covering the SBNC, which included observing far more SBNC meetings than anyone on this panel and publishing hundreds of pages of observations. My plan was to present my observations at the first meeting of the SBNC, when it would determine its basic administrative procedures, and then be done with it.
Alas, that was not to happen. Soon after the Governor appointed the new SBNC commissioners in early fall, I contacted three of the SBNC commissioners, Amalie Brandenburg, Joan Maynard, including, most importantly, the new SBNC Chair, Jamie Falcon. I mentioned my basic concerns about the supermajority voting rule and public records practices of the SBNC and they all invited me to share my thoughts at the first meeting. To chair Jamie Falcon, I praised him to high heaven for allowing the public to comment on administrative matters at a time set aside for that purpose and for the first time since the SBNC was implemented in 2008. I was also very clear that I couldn’t finish my remarks within the typical amount of time allocated for public comments. No problem; he still encouraged me to testify.
At the Nov. 17 meeting, the time for public comments came and went without any public comments. Instead, the Chair tried to ram through a series of procedural changes, including limiting public comment strictly to three minutes, prior to allowing any public comment. Other commissioners voiced disapproval of these procedural changes but not because they cared about public comment; only because they felt that they themselves hadn’t been given adequate notice and opportunity for comment.
At that point, I rudely interrupted the Chair and reminded him that he hadn’t allowed the promised time for public comment. He then granted me the three minutes allowed me under his newly passed public participation rule. No matter that I was the only member of the public present. No matter that I was the County’s leading expert on SBNC procedure. No matter that the entire meeting would take less than 50 minutes. No matter that prior to the meeting he had been all sweetness and light in encouraging my participation.
After the meeting I told him of his broken promise, and he denied it. I then sent him a copy of our correspondence showing otherwise. To his credit, he generously acknowledged that his memory had been faulty.
Leading up to the Jan. 7, 2016 SBNC public hearing, I wrote to the SBNC Chair and asked him once again whether I would have the opportunity to finish my testimony, which I estimated would take about six minutes. He never got back to me. By then, however, my heart was only half in the matter because I knew that the meeting on Jan. 7 would have a full agenda.
Still, I believe that if the SBNC hadn’t shown such contempt for due process, including its longtime pigsty of a website where even SBNC members cannot find the rules under which they are supposed to operate, it would not have violated the law by holding only one public hearing prior to nominating the candidates on Jan. 7. I can further assure you that allowing me to speak for another few minutes on Jan. 7 would have saved you a great deal of time and embarrassment, although I can fully appreciate that by the time I spoke the hour was late and the time short. The compulsive need to control and thus limit public participation—all, of course, done in the name of enhancing public participation—has been, in my opinion, the root of the problem.
[At this point I was cut off and not allowed to finish the rest of my testimony, as I had indeed reached the three minute mark.]
I would like you to understand that I could have waited until Governor Hogan made his appointments to the Board of Education before providing public notice that you had violated the law in nominating candidates to him. That would have undoubtedly resulted in months of additional delay and probably tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money spent on litigation by those seeking to preserve the status quo or otherwise enforce their due process rights. It is beyond my wildest imagination that Chair Falcon or Vice Chair Brandenburg would thank me for sparing them and the taxpayers from this grief. Instead, when I asked them whether I could finish my testimony today, I was told I’d be strictly limited to three minutes.
I would now ask you to grant me the courtesy of either allowing me to finish my testimony now or announcing a time at a specific future meeting where I could do so. For your information, I do plan to go away and leave you in peace after you let me finish my testimony. I thus think letting me finish my testimony would be a win-win for all concerned. Please, pretty please, let me be done.