Questions arise over President Schmidt’s vote to close school.
Once again the voices of the community fell on deaf ears as the Baltimore County School Board on March 5 voted to close the Eastwood Elementary School.
If you look closely you will see the possible conflict of interest that deals with School Board President Lawrence Schmidt and his vote to close the school.
I think what is important here is to look at the various reasons put forth for the closing and other factors that are supposed to enhance our students’ ability to take advantage of the STEM magnet program. What strikes me as rather odd is the timing of this entire process.
What are the motivating factors for this closure and subsequent plans to sell the property to developers? In order to sell the North Point Government Center, the county will have to relocate the North Point Precinct. We already know through community meetings and statements made by county officials that the Eastwood facility is at the top of the list, despite what I believe is a complete lack of any study on the feasibility of the move and its impact on the community and the parents opposed to the move.
There are some interesting issues that come to light in the school board’s decision and none of them are good.
We’ll get to the conflict of interest in a moment but this deal to close the school is suspicious right from the get go.
Take the timing of the incident. If the county was so concerned about creating a new STEM Academy the timing alone draws some suspicion. It all coincides with the plans to sell the government center, which would require the relocation of the police precinct.
Now we have a new school superintendent, Dr. Dance who just came on board without any experience in the county system and yet he has this concept all wrapped up in his decision that runs parallel with that of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
Now is that a coincidence or what?
If you look at Patch’s article on Kamenetz touring the North Point Government Center, I said a long time ago that I believed this was a orchestrated move to begin the process that is unfolding today.
If the STEM program was so important, why is it being brought to fruition at the same time of the sale of county land? To make it clear, you need one to do the other.
Judging by the media articles, of which there were many, the Eastwood community did not want to lose their school. You see where that went.
Now back to my main point of the potential conflict of interest concerning board President Mr. Schmidt. He votes yes which is a vote for development. Now the question is, what does Mr. Schmidt do for a living? He is a lawyer who specializes in development. You might be interested in his partners, which include the former county executive Jim Smith, his son and David Gildea.
You might also be interested in two major land deals on the east side that were represented by this firm. They were the Yorkway development (see PDF file) and the Fort Howard proposed development.
What is interesting, especially in the Yorkway deal, is the statement made by then-Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz. At the time he said the sale price of the land and the move concerned him. In addition, he said he would block the matter from coming to a council vote. He did neither but instead voted for and signed off on the project as Council Chairman. (See PDF articles)
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel from Common Cause Maryland said that, “the appearance of this issue is incredible. If not a direct conflict of interest it certainly raises red flags for the citizens of Baltimore County.”
She went on to say the county needs to take a step back and restore the faith of the people in their government and their voices being heard.
In this particular case, Ms. Bevan-Dangel spoke to the issue of the vote leading to the possible avenue of profit given the history of various members involved. Board President Lawrence Schmidt was appointed in 2009 during the administration of then-county executive Jim Smith, now one of the members of the law firm of Smith, Gildea & Schmidt.
The question I have is that every one of those involved in this deal are all attorneys, including a former judge, and they should know that we expect them to perform to and we hold them to a higher standard of ethical conduct.
If anyone doubts the current state of affairs in Baltimore County, one only has to look at the latest headlines in the Baltimore Sun in dealing with the speed camera issue. An interesting twist is a sidebar article which reveals Jim Smith’s involvement with the speed contractor ACS and the ethics charged filed against him by Steve Bailey of Americans for Prosperity.