On Feb. 18, 2015, the Commission plans to vote on dozens of applicants using a voting rule allowing 27% of its members to veto a nomination.
Between now and July 1, 2015, Governor Larry Hogan will have the opportunity to appoint to the Anne Arundel Board of Education a majority (five of eight) of its adult members. In doing so, he will be limited to choosing from among those nominated by the Anne Arundel School Board Nominating Commission, which is required by statute to submit to him at least two nominees for each open seat.
On Feb. 18, 2015, the Commission will vote on dozens of applicants for two open seats–and it plans to use an undemocratic voting rule to do so.
The Maryland General Assembly allows the Commission to choose its own voting rule for choosing nominees. The Commission, which consists of eleven commissioners, has chosen a supermajority rule whereby an applicant needs the votes of at least eight commissioners to be nominated. That means, for example, that the four public union representatives (two from the teachers’ union, one from the administrators’ union, and one from the largest support staff union) can normally veto any candidate. When the Commission has a vacancy, as it currently does, only three votes (27% of the commission) are needed for a veto.
The Commission should change its voting rule to require only a simple majority, which is the largest majority legislative bodies typically use to approve, let alone merely nominate, a candidate for public office. This change would be easy to make because it would require no more than a simple majority vote by the commissioners–the same procedure they used to create the supermajority rule in the first place.
Arguably, the Commission shouldn’t stop there. Given its questionable democratic legitimacy, the Commission could reverse its existing voting rule and require only four votes to vet an applicant. Use of a minority voting rule is common when a public body engages in a two-step decision rule, such as when a court decides which cases to consider or the public collects signatures to place a referendum on the ballot.
From another perspective, four yes votes is actually a majority because five of the eleven commissioners are appointed by private entities such as the teachers’ and administrators’ unions. Indeed, the Maryland statute creating these commission seats may be a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause, which mandates that every citizen be entitled to one vote. For example, the Illinois Supreme Court found that a city council violated this constitutional provision when it delegated the election of local school boards to the parents of children enrolled in the schools.
The Commission knows its current supermajority rule lacks democratic legitimacy, which helps explain why it never included this critical rule in its bylaws and passed it at an obscure, poorly attended meeting. Since the rule was passed in 2008, I have never heard it publicly defended, even at the meeting at which it was passed. But many political practices persist even if they are too embarrassing to defend publicly. It is the public’s job to demand an end to them. In Hong Kong, for example, a proposed nominating commission that would give Beijing veto power over candidates for local government led hundreds of thousands of citizens to demonstrate in the streets.
Anne Arundel County Council members and Anne Arundel delegates to the Maryland General Assembly should write to Commission members requesting that they use no more than a simple majority voting rule to vet nominees. More than half the County Council’s budget goes to fund the Anne Arundel County Public School System, and the Council routinely sends resolutions to AACPS and other public bodies expressing its views. Some Commission members owe their appointment to the recommendations of General Assembly members and will not want to annoy their benefactors.
Regardless of what the Commission does, the General Assembly should pass legislation mandating that the Commission use no more than a simple majority to nominate an applicant. The bill introduced in the General Assembly on Feb. 6 to reform the School Board Nominating Commission should be amended to include such a provision.
In America, we call it “special interest politics” when a small minority can veto a candidate for public office. It may be impossible to eliminate special interest politics from our school board. But eliminating supermajority rules for the Commission that nominates its members would be a significant step in that direction.
Source: Snider, J.H., Stop the Anne Arundel Nominating Commission’s Undemocratic Practices, Anne Arundel Patch, February 11, 2015.