Cumberland Times-News

July 20, 2013

Might our county sue itself?


Cumberland Times-News

— The ongoing war between the Allegany County Commissioners and the Allegany County Board of Education has been counterproductive to say the least.

It’s evident that both sides have had major disagreements in regards to the administration of the public school system from the time both boards were installed into office.

The most recent disagreements regarding school security and the county ex-officio member to the board of education has only augmented the disconnect between the two boards.

The recent position the county has taken in threatening a lawsuit against the board of education over the privileges of the ex-officio member is an example of a lack of significant focus on part of the commissioners.

At a time when economic development should be a main priority of county government, the county is actually considering suing itself.

I cannot think of a poorer example of the use of public tax dollars than to file a lawsuit against an agency that you fund.

Instead of allocating county funds to file a costly lawsuit, that money could be invested in our community in a productive way such as upgrades to roads, infrastructure and broadband expansion to attract new business.

In the same breath, the board of education will have to expend funds to defend itself against such a lawsuit, resulting in tax dollars that could have been used to benefit the school system and students.

This is all somewhat baffling since within the last year the county was requesting removal of the ex-officio position because they cited a lack of time to attend such meetings.

Now they are considering a lawsuit to attend such meetings which typically can run for hours at a time and would require even more of their time.

I would suggest that the county commissioners focus more on what citizens are truly concerned with, rather than fighting with the board of education over every aspect of the governance of the school system.

For example, citizens along George’s Creek are still trying to find ways to pay for the costly sewage upgrades that have significantly raised their yearly taxes.

The county would benefit greatly by investigating ways to refinance that debt, or secure other funding sources to help lower these costs, rather than spending time fighting with the school system over executive session privilege.

The intent of most ex-officio membership positions is to serve in an “advisory capacity” to a board of directors.

Ex-officio members are typically not intended to have the same privileges as elected members to a board of directors. If that were the case, then what would be the intent of having an “ex-officio member” at all?

If an ex-officio member does in fact have the exact same privileges and voting rights of an elected member, it would negate the purpose of an advisory position all together.

Most believe that it is beneficial to have the county seated at the table with the board of education in an advisory capacity since they are a major funding partner and collaboration between to the two can be productive when projects or issues involve both entities.

I believe that both sides should sit down and come to a reasonable agreement without the need for a costly lawsuit.

At the end of the day, there is no last word in diplomacy. The county and the board should both focus on their respective priorities and move forward.

Tom Striplin

Mount Savage