Cumberland Times-News

July 11, 2013

County: School security funds to sheriff, not BOE

Ex-officio exclusion prompts commissioners to threaten suit

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Allegany County commissioners have decided that school security should be in the hands of Sheriff Craig Robertson, in consultation with the board of education, and voted that the $190,000 they have allocated for school security will be in the sheriff’s hands and not in the hands of the board.

In their Thursday business meeting, commissioners gave Robertson the go-ahead to find up to three school resource officers for the coming school year. The item was added to the agenda at the last minute.

In tandem, commissioners rejected a request made earlier this week by the board of education to have the $190,000 allocated to them to implement a school security program.

“I know that time is of the essence,” said Commission President Michael McKay, explaining why he favored making an immediate decision. “Evil will do what evil will do,” he said.

The funding issue has been decided, McKay said.

The $190,000 would only be put to use if the sheriff and board can agree on a memorandum of understanding regarding the plan. The school board would have to approve Robertson’s idea formally to allow the officers in the schools.

While Commissioner Bill Valentine said he had asked board members to be present at Thursday’s meeting. There were no board members present.

The board’s request, sent by email, was apparently attempting to finesse some sort of solution to the issue of how to deal with school security. It didn’t work.   

The board and commissioners have been at odds over whether funding for school security should be placed with the sheriff or the board.

The board endorsed the sheriff’s plan for school security, at least in part, earlier this week, but wanted the funding allocated to the school system.

Commissioners have always maintained the sheriff should get the funding.

Both sides, locked in a sometimes bitter battle of words over who should control school security and funding for security, have espoused the mantra, “It’s all about the kids.”

County Administrator David Eberly summed it up during the discussion Thursday:  “We have three different bodies here and they’re not working in unison at this time.”

McKay said the commission’s decision pretty much ends their role in the process, leaving it to the board, the sheriff and the health department to work out the details.

The health department could be involved in the mental health aspect of security.

Robertson said he hoped to have officers in place during the first part of the school year, if all parties were on board with the plan.

“We all need to sit down ... and work it out,” Robertson said Thursday.

Robertson released his report on Monday that recommended hiring full-time school resource officers who would provide security to the county’s public and private schools.

The sheriff’s 11-page report, titled “Allegany County School Security Plan 2013,” was presented Monday to the county commissioners, the board of education and to media following a presentation by the sheriff.

In a separate, school board-related issue, commissioners revealed that the county is considering a lawsuit against the board of education over the exclusion of Valentine, who also serves as an ex-officio member of the board, from executive sessions.

An ex-officio, or non-voting, member of the county commission usually sits on the school board and the county maintains that the non-voting member is entitled to sit in on executive sessions of the board as well, except in cases of a conflict of interest.

School board members recently decided they won’t permit Valentine to sit in on any executive sessions, which are also closed to the public.

Valentine made a motion to authorize county attorney William Rudd to write to the school board’s members informing them of the county’s intentions should the board not change their policy.

The motion was passed unanimously.

Earlier this year, commissioners considered asking that the position of ex-officio member be abolished. Valentine said the issues surrounding the ex-officio member have existed for at least 20 years.

The Thursday commission meeting took place at county offices on Kelly Road.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at Staff writer Jeffrey Alderton contributed to this report.