CUMBERLAND — In a letter that accuses the Allegany County Board of Education of holding illegal executive sessions, Allegany County commissioners say they will no longer send a commissioner to school board meetings. A commissioner holds an ex-officio seat on the board as a non-voting member, but with the right to attend closed executive sessions.
“It is obvious that your board ... do not want the ex-officio members to effectively participate,” read the letter from Allegany County Commissioners to Laurie Marchini, the president of the Allegany County Board of Education.
The board of education recently asked the District 1 legislative delegation to support legislation to abolish the ex-officio position.
“Unfortunately, a substantial amount of the work of your board takes place in executive sessions. We believe most of these executive sessions are in direct violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act,” the letter continued. The letter then went on to say that commissioners would no longer participate in board meetings. Among other statements, commissioners said they don’t want to participate in meetings they believe are violations of open meetings laws.
“There’s no sense in having us attend meetings,” said Commissioner Bill Valentine. Valentine currently serves as the ex-officio member and said the board does not allow him, or citizens, to meaningfully participate in board meetings.
The draft letter was discussed publicly for the first time at Thursday evening’s commission business meeting at county offices on Kelly Road. Commissioners then voted to approve the letter, sign it and send it to the school board.
The fracas is tied up with an about-face on both sides. It was at the beginning of 2013 that 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 have said that it is not ethical to have 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.
“We have already had a ruling from the office of the attorneys general that the ex-officio has the right to attend the executive sessions,” Valentine has said.
Marchini was contacted by the Times-News Thursday night. She asked to defer comment until she sees the letter.
Matthew Binnie can be contacted at email@example.com.