The newly created Anne Arundel School Board Appointment Commission appoints school board members to fill vacant seats on the Anne Arundel County Board of Education. Its commissioners must be duly appointed; otherwise, their official acts are invalid.

On Aug. 24, the SBAC appointed Colin Reinhard to the Board of Education. But some commissioners voting for him weren’t duly appointed. If their invalid votes weren’t counted, the outcome could have been different.

I unexpectedly discovered the sloppy appointment process after making a Public Information Act request for the official email correspondence of two of the 13 commissioners. The two I chose had led SBAC factions opposed to each other, and I hoped their official correspondence would give me more insight into SBAC politics.

I requested the commissioners’ correspondence from the time they had been appointed to the SBAC. In response, Anne Arundel County Public Schools public information officer replied that neither commissioner had “official letters of appointment to the Commission.”

After repeatedly requesting the commissioners’ appointment information, I was given their appointment information for the previous school selection commission, the School Board Nominating Commission, which, after a series of Open Meetings Act violations and lawsuits, the Maryland General Assembly made defunct in 2017 when it created the SBAC.

Consider why not counting invalidly appointed commissioners could have changed the outcome:

Because I only asked for the appointment information for two of the 13 SBAC commissioners, other commission members may also have had invalid appointments.

Voting for the school board appointees took place in four voting stages: on the SBAC’s leadership, on its voting rules to make appointments, and then on both its primary and general elections to winnow down the 22 applicants.

Let’s examine the last two stages. In the primary election, the applicant field was reduced to the top three vote getters, with those tied in third place all making it to the general election.

Votes among the 22 candidates were highly dispersed, with the top four candidates winning respectively nine, seven, five, and four of a possible 13 votes. Disqualifying just a few commissioners could have changed the outcome.

In the general election, eight votes were required to win, and it took three rounds of voting to secure the eight votes. Disqualifying just a few commissioners could have made getting to eight much harder.

The remedy for this invalid election is for the SBAC to revote when it next meets on Monday and after all its commissioners have been duly appointed (and their official appointment letters publicly posted online).

Redoing the election probably wouldn’t change the result. But consider a recent similar experience.

After the Washington Post revealed that the SBNC was required by statute to hold two, not one, public hearings before selecting among school board applicants, the SBNC was forced to revote. In the interim, the selection politics had dramatically changed, resulting in the defeat of a previous nominee.

The current appointee could face similar headwinds. For example, a key political advantage he brought to the table was that he had been an AACPS teacher until only a year ago.

This included being vested in AACPS retirement benefit plans that are a large and growing portion of AACPS’s budget. He was thus well known and trusted by the SBAC’s power brokers.

But if his revolving door status had been made meaningfully public prior to his appointment, some votes might have changed. Regardless of one’s other qualifications, Maryland law doesn’t allow current school system employees to serve on school boards due to the obvious conflict of interest.

The main difference between the previous and current legal violation may be that in the previous one a well-heeled minority faction had an incentive to embarrass and sue the school selection commission’s leadership if it didn’t comply with the law.

Without such an enforcement incentive, laws become mere paper weights.

Source: Snider, J.H., Anne Arundel school board pick may have been invalid, Capital, November 27, 2017.

See also: Pacella, Rachael, Appointment Commission reopens application process for vacant school board seat, Capital, November 27, 2017.

Copied below is the original ending for this op-ed, which I cut before submitting it to the Capital. In its place, I substituted: “Without such an enforcement incentive, laws become mere paper weights.”

When politically convenient, both violating rules and public norms, then revising the public record to hide any infractions, are common practices within AACPS.

No reporter attended any of the SBAC’s public meetings related to the appointee’s selection. In May 2017, the local education reporter had resigned and no replacement was hired until after the SBAC’s late August appointment. Neither was there any reporting done on the sloppy vetting that resulted in having an open seat to fill.

Alas, such procedural sloppiness is endemic in Anne Arundel County because our politicians–especially those from AACPS–are rewarded for making high-minded statements, not for performance. Since the politicians’ press releases don’t include their procedural abuses, the abuses don’t get reported. Until that dynamic changes and the politicians are called to account for violating the laws that serve as the foundation of our democracy, expect their sloppiness and abuses to continue.

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Beginning in 2018, Baltimore County will have a School Board Nominating Commission (SBNC) largely modeled after the path-breaking one in Anne Arundel County. The General Assembly passed legislation creating the Commission in 2014. On Oct. 2, 2017, the Baltimore County Public Schools issued a press release that the Governor, County Executive, and specified organizations would announce their legally required appointments “by early November 2017.” As of Nov. 25, no public announcement had been made concerning the Governor’s eight appointments, and the website notice concerning the other appointments—posted after “early November”—conspicuously lacked a date stamp. Baltimore citizens should take care that the foibles of the Anne Arundel SBNC are not replicated in Baltimore.