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—– By: Ann Costantino —–
When Baltimore County Public Schools destroyed almost 2,600 financial disclosure statements last year, no one – not even the school board – was aware that it happened.
But trying to find out how a small law office purged – what would have amounted to – around 40,000 pieces of paper on two separate days has become even more of a mystery.
With no trace of shredded documents or how much it cost the school system to purge them, it is not clear how the law office could have destroyed the records – logistically speaking – which are legal documents designed to capture conflicts of interest.
Also problematic is the timing of the record destruction, when thousands of disclosure documents were destroyed precisely at a time when employee and vendor relationships were under intense public scrutiny following national media coverage and the criminal convictions of not one – but two – former Baltimore County Public School employees.
In a response to a Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request on Wednesday, the school system’s law office said there are simply “no responsive records” to The Baltimore Post’s requests for expenses associated with the mass purge. And since the law office did not send the financial documents to the system’s Department of Logistics – where the district’s other sensitive records go to meet their maker – official “Records of Destruction” certificates are not available either.
This would mean that, according to the law office’s MPIA responses to The Baltimore Post, on April 27, 2018, school system staff would have been relegated to destroying up to 38,000 pieces of paper on a single day. And, on Aug 1, those employees would have used their time destroying at least 3,200 more. (Each financial disclosure statement is roughly 16 pages.)
But why would it be so important to the law office to shred the documents by themselves? And at that particular time?
While pointing to a policy the school system had not made use of in its entire recorded history – but one that allowed employees to destroy financial disclosure records over four years old – the two days the law office said they purged them eclipsed discussions concerning the scope of a procurement audit which sought to ensure that contracts were awarded properly and without undue influence.
The years chosen for audit’s scope: 2012 to 2017. The reporting years of the financial statements that were destroyed: 1997 to 2013.
But the question is not only: Why were they destroyed, but how?
With no paid contractors to help with the job according to the law office, and a MPIA response which – by law – is supposed to be accurate and says the records were destroyed on two days, how did the system’s general counsel and employees dispose of so many documents?
How did it happen? No answer.
Why did it happen? No answer. Yet school officials did talk to The Baltimore Sun about it, whose editorial board called the timing of the purge “a colossal lack of common sense.” That ended that.
Who called for it to happen? No answer. But, again, school officials told The Baltimore Sun, who reported that it was the school system’s general counsel, Margaret-Ann Howie, Esq, who called for the purge due to space limitations.
We asked for records detailing: When did it happen? Howie, who ordered the purge, provided an official destruction log that made that clear: April 27 and Aug 1, 2018. It’s how The Baltimore Post figured out there was a purge in the first place.
Then The Baltimore Post asked for the official “Shred Certificates.” But there are none.
How about: All invoices related to the destruction or transportation of the documents? Uh uh.
Any payments to any other contractors, subcontractors or other companies who may have assisted with the record purge or transported the documents offsite? None, none and none.
What about receipts of any kind related to the record destruction, including those for equipment? Nope.
And, finally: Can we have the payment detail, showing all costs associated with the purge? Nada.