Cumberland Times-News

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February 27, 2014

Maryland S­enate OKs ex-officio bill

Measure moving on to House for consideration

CUMBERLAND — A bill that would abolish ex-officio seats for county commissioners on the Allegany and Garrett County boards of education continues to cruise through the General Assembly. The bill won a 47-0 vote in the Senate on Tuesday and was expected to have a first reading in the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday.

Typically, bills limited to an impact on just a county or two, so-called local bills, face little opposition, Sen. George Edwards has said.

The position has caused friction for the past two years between Allegany County commissioners and the Allegany County Board of Education.

A commissioner in both counties holds an ex-officio seat on the board of education as a nonvoting member, but with the right to attend closed executive sessions.

The Garrett County Board of Education includes five elected members, the chairman or vice chairman of the county commission who serves as the ex-officio member, and one student member, who also does not have a vote.

In Allegany County, the board consists of five elected members, the chairman of the Allegany County Commission (or the chairman’s designee) who serves as the ex-officio member, and a student member, also without a vote.

Allegany and Garrett counties will not have a financial impact from the change, according to the fiscal and policy note prepared by the Department of Legislative Services. “Allegany County advises that because of the proximity of county government offices to the location for board of education meetings (which generally occur once per month), there are typically no travel or other expense reimbursements under current law for the chairman’s participation in board of education meetings. Therefore, the bill will not alter county finances. Also, Garrett County advises that the bill will not affect county finances,” the fiscal and policy note states.            

At the beginning of 2013, Allegany County Commission President Mike McKay suggested abolishing the ex-officio position, with board of education members opposing getting rid of it. Since that idea was broached by McKay, the ex-officio position has become the latest in a series of battles over the past few years between county commissioners and members of the board of education.

School board members didn’t want the ex-officio present during sensitive personnel issues and funding negotiations. Conflicts arise when the agenda includes collective bargaining and personnel items, board members have said.

The ex-officio bills are Senate Bill 383 and House Bill 343.

County commissioners and the board of education support the bills. Only three counties in the state have an ex-officio board member.

“We offered to abolish the position last session,” Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine has said. County commissioners have made it clear that in the future when school board members attend and speak at county commission meetings, they will be required to answer questions from the public. Board of education members do not respond directly to issues or questions raised by citizens during board meetings.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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