On January 13, 15, 27, and 28 the Anne Arundel County School Board Nominating Commission (SBNC) met to hear testimony from applicants for two open seats on the Anne Arundel County Board of Education. Dozens applied for the two open seats. On February 12, the SBNC will meet to vote on the applicants and nominate at least two to the governor for each open seat. At the close of the final public hearing on January 28, J.H. Snider testified on how the SBNC could improve its process. His testimony is copied below.
Thank you for taking public testimony regarding democratic procedures for the Anne Arundel School Board Nominating Commission. As you know, I’m a political scientist interested in democratic reform. Based on extensive observations of the SBNC since 2007, I have six very short process recommendations. I would be happy to elaborate on any of them if you desire:
- The SBNC currently requires a supermajority of at least 8 of 11 commissioners to nominate an applicant. It should require only a simple majority of at least 6 of 11 commissioners.
- The beginning and end of SBNC commissioner terms is vital public information. This information should be clearly posted on the SBNC website.
- The SBNC conducts public meetings to conduct administrative business as well as interview and submit final votes on applicants. Both types of meetings should be webcast and given similar advance public notice.
- The SBNC is currently using a dual public-private process to evaluate applicants. The public should be provided with a clear statement of what part of the SBNC’s process is meaningfully public. For example, the SBNC should clarify publicly that written candidate testimony and letters submitted on behalf of candidates are effectively being treated as private rather than public communications.
- The General Assembly statute creating the SBNC left many vital procedural issues unresolved. As a result, the SBNC has solicited from Maryland’s Office of the Attorney General and other legal authorities opinions concerning how the SBNC is legally bound to operate. All such opinions, whether put in writing or not, should be posted on the SBNC website; secret law is abhorrent to democratic governance, especially regarding elections.
- As you know, the SBNC has a history of discussing administrative rules in private and was called out for that practice by Maryland’s Open Meeting’s Compliance Board. This electoral cycle, despite substantial changes in its procedures and a promise last spring to do otherwise, the SBNC did not conduct a public meeting concerning its procedures. The SBNC should commit to following not only the letter but the spirit of both Maryland’s Open Meetings Act and Public Information Act.
Finally, I need to retract a former statement I made before the SBNC. For seven years I have asked you to codify your scattered and often unpublished election procedures and resist the temptation to adjust your rules after candidates have declared themselves. For example, it is a violation of democratic norms for the SBNC to adjust its election practices when an incumbent it likes is up for re-election. At a public meeting last spring you publicly committed to holding one or more public meetings prior to the next election cycle to discuss, codify, and publish online your election rules. At that meeting, I profusely praised you for that commitment. Since it wasn’t implemented, I now need to retract my words to correct the record.
Source: Snider, J.H., Update on the Anne Arundel County School Board Nominating Commission, Anne Arundel Patch, January 28, 2015. For a related article by Snider, explaining just the first recommendation, see Alleviating the school board’s special interest politics, Eye On Annapolis, January 28, 2015.
Snider’s testimony Can be found at 2:03:40.