State school board says it is unable to review Prince George’s ethics complaints

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Despite a plea from County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), the Maryland State Board of Education said this week it is unable to review ethics allegations against several members of the Prince George’s school board.

In a statement, the state board said it “is aware of reports in the media” regarding the conclusions reached by a citizen-led ethics panel regarding members of the county school board.

But the state board said it “has been advised that the report is confidential until accepted by the local board of education,” and thus cannot pursue the matter.

The board’s statement was quietly posted to its website on Tuesday, amid a stormy period for Prince George’s educators.

In June, the county board’s five-person ethics panel reached “tentative” findings that several elected members engaged in wrongdoing.

The ethics probe concluded that:

  • members pushed through a union-friendly contracting provision after receiving campaign contributions from a labor organization representing construction workers;
  • they hired an Annapolis lobbyist with the sole task of getting state lawmakers to strip the Prince George’s board of its appointed members; and that
  • they engineered a reorganization of the board’s professional staff to pave the way for the hiring of people with ties to the elected members.

The members named as “respondents” in the tentative report vigorously rejected the ethics panel’s findings, calling them misinformed and politically-motivated.

Several members have hired attorneys.

One member sought to debunk the claims one-by-one in a Maryland Matters commentary.

By law the findings must remain confidential until the probe is resolved, but a copy was provided to Maryland Matters.

In the wake of the media reports, Alsobrooks urged the state board to look into the allegations at once.

“I am calling on the leadership of the State Board to immediately review the Ethics Panel report and make a decision based on the findings as soon as possible,” she said.

But the State Board’s statement this week suggested that no review is imminent.

“The State Board does not have the report, and it has no information about the contents of the ethics report, which remains confidential,” the panel said.

A tumultuous county board meeting in late July ended in stalemate when the members under investigation voted as a bloc to prevent Board Chair Juanita D. Miller and the appointed members from formally accepting the ethics panel’s findings.

(The county board has nine elected and four appointed members; there is also a student member who is allowed to vote on some issues.)

On Thursday, the county school board met twice in closed session and once in open session. The meeting ran well into the evening, but the panel did not vote to accept the ethics report.

In addition to acknowledging the existence of the ethics report, the state board’s statement also confirmed that is “has received requests to remove three members — Miller and members Edward Burroughs and David Murray.”

Burroughs and Murray are elected members who have sought, along with others, the removal of Miller, an Alsobrooks appointee. They accused her of “misconduct in office,” “willful neglect of duty” and “incompetence.”

Miller has spoken disparagingly of the generally younger, elected members of the board, calling them “very callous” and “self-serving” in an interview.

“It hasn’t been about the people,” she said. “Until you get to the root of the problem, it’s going to continue to fester.”

The requests to remove the three members were filed in June and July, according to the state board’s statement, but the document was silent on who filed the requests or what the grounds for potential dismissal were.

“The State Board may remove a member of the Prince George’s County Board of Education for immorality, misconduct in office, incompetency, or willful neglect of duty,” the panel stated, providing the relevant portion of state law, Education Article §3-1002.

In the removal process, the state board will accept additional comments for 30 days after a complaint is filed, and allows the subject of a removal complaint to request a hearing at of the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Review of county BOE contracts to begin

The state board also disclosed this week that it intends to conduct a review of the county board’s contracting practices.

A request for proposals was posted on the state’s online procurement portal on July 23. It will be formally released in late August, giving firms interested in conducting the review 30 days to submit bids.

“The independent performance audit has been requested based on allegations of issuing sole-source contracts outside of the standard procurement process and reorganization and personnel actions outside the standard process for reorganization by the Prince George’s County Board of Education,” the state board said.

“The need for this independent performance audit arose from a request from the Chairman of the Prince George’s County Council and the Chairman of the Prince George’s County Board of Education to [the Maryland State Department of Education] to investigate the allegations,” the statement added.

Members of the county board have said they welcome the outside review.

The Prince George’s school board has churned through several attorneys this year — and despite assurances from Miller that the panel is working hard to find a new lawyer, the board has yet to hire one.

The panel’s meetings occasionally devolve into cross-talk and arguments over procedure.

During the public comment of Thursday’s meeting, one citizen urged the panel to conduct business in a more civil manner.

“We’re asking for people to able to disagree,” activist Krystal Oriadha said. “Lose with dignity and grace. … We have to do better.”

Community activist Janna Parker called it “extremely disheartening and disconcerting” to hear calls for the removal of elected officials before the ethics allegations have been made public.

“We voted for these people,” she said. “Let them do their job.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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