Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

July 22, 2013

School board should honor the law

On Sunday, July 21, I read with interest the commentary by Tom Striplin dealing with the issue of the (Allegany County) Board of Education’s denial of the right of the ex officio member to attend all meetings of the Board of Education.

Mr. Striplin has an interest in this matter, since the BOE followed what the office of the attorney general has found to be improper, while Mr. Striplin was a BOE member and also the president of the BOE. Mr. Striplin also, during his tenure, supported the BOE’s policy of not addressing questions from the public at public meetings.

As an announced candidate for the office of county commissioner, Mr. Striplin must realize, that if elected, he will have a sworn duty to represent all citizens of Allegany County.

Representing our citizens, means honoring the right of our citizens to know what their elected officials are doing,what decisions are being made, and how those decisions are made. Transparency is too often a pledge, that is never honored, by those seeking a public office. Allegany County was recently found to be in the top 1 percent in the nation for transparency — that was not accomplished by the denial of rights to our citizens.

The state considers the Board of Education to be five elected members, an ex officio member (either the president of the board of commissioners, or another commissioner appointed by the president), and a student representative. Only the elected members have a vote, but the student representative and the ex officio are to have all other rights of the board on which they serve.

The student representative is not allowed to attend executive sessions. The office of the attorney general, however, has made it extremely clear that the ex officio has not only the right to attend all meetings, including executive session, but also a “duty, to attend all such meetings.”

Approximately two months ago, I asked Dr. (Edward) Root and BOE attorney, Gary Hanna, to meet with myself and county attorney Bill Rudd on this matter. We had a very cordial, business-like meeting. Evidently, Dr. Root and Mr Hanna agreed with the county’s position, since the next packet that I received for a BOE meeting, included new policy language that would have been quite acceptable to the county. The present policy allows the ex officio to attend executive session, only by invitation.

No such invitation has been received by the county in 2 1/2 years. The BOE, however, did not approve of the new language, allowing it to die from the lack of a motion. No motion, no vote on record. The county has once again asked the BOE to reconsider (the A.G. opinion was part of that communication). We are also asking for the minutes of all executive session meetings since Jan.1, 2011, so the ex officio will have the information that we feel has been improperly denied. If a court decision is needed, then so be it.

It is sad, that the BOE, and Mr. Striplin, appear to believe that the BOE can choose which laws they will, or will not, honor. I hope this is not the message that is being given to the students in our schools. Our country is a land of laws, and a process to change laws we find are not desirable.

If people are left to choose which laws they will follow, we will have anarchy. Hopefully the Board of Education will read the A.G’s opinion, read the laws, and honor the law by granting full board rights (minus voting rights) to the ex officio.

Allegany County

Commissioner Bill Valentine

Cumberland

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