June 17, 2014 8:00 pm ET
State Delegate McDonough fights for transparency regarding school superintendent
Before I get into the meat of this story, which involves Delegate Pat McDonough forcing open the door of secrecy surrounding Dr. Dance until the ethics board stepped in, I want to go over some background.
This quote from the Sun’s first article on Dr. Dance was ominous. It didn’t take a mind reader to see what was about to take place.
First, a quote from that story:
“Baltimore County school board President Lawrence Schmidt, who didn’t know about Dance’s consulting work until recently, said the panel plans to discuss the issue at its next meeting Tuesday. Because the issue involves a personnel matter, he said, the board would talk with Dance about it behind closed doors.”
Anything that goes on “behind closed doors” in Baltimore County is questionable, and—much like the Obama White House—the game tends to be to ignore the problem until it fades out of the public eye (or have an Attorney General in your back pocket).
Now, the question I have to pose is why Schmidt would take “the Dance” behind closed doors? I have some thoughts on that one.
These are some quotes I received from the Baltimore County School Board that could provide some insight. I had filed an earlier PIA seeking information about the Smith, Gildea & Schmidt law firm and whether it had performed any legal work for the school board. Here is what I asked for on my PIA: “Any legal services provided by the law firm of Smith, Gildea & Schmidt LLC to the Baltimore County Public Schools?” In summary, the response from the county schools was NO!
It seemed very suspicious that School Board President Schmidt refused to turn over records regarding Dr. Dance. In response to that, Del. McDonough stepped in and filed his own PIA (see the PDF document) to get those records.
This is what is troubling in this situation—after the closed door session with Schmidt and Dance, the matter was dropped. Once again, the old “out of sight, out of mind” routine reared its ugly head in Baltimore County. Del. McDonough, was standing on the sidelines watching, which turned out to be problematic for those wanting to keep things in secrecy. Finally, when it appeared (as always) that those in charge were going to do nothing (like someone else we all know), Del. McDonough filed his complaint.
Once that happened, the ethics board had to act. If you follow the code (county law), the ethics board should have acted immediately. However, in typical fashion, the board is reactive and not proactive. An investigation should not happen just because a complaint has been filed. The Ethics Commission only has to become aware of such conduct in order to act.
OK, that may be asking a bit much, but one can dream of a system that does what it is supposed to do, right?
Anyway, Dr. Dance ultimately was found in violation of the ethics code, yet there has been no disciplinary action taken. I can just hear the conversation now: “OK, you were naughty … now don’t do it again.”
So much for upholding the rules in our county schools.
What galls me are the words of Councilman David Marks. Remember, he is the councilman who let Jim Smith write his PUD, which is another no-no (but I digress on that one).
Here is a quote from the Sun’s story: “County Councilman David Marks said, Dance should have been focused on his county job. ‘The superintendent is a very active and engaged superintendent. He has enough on his plate,’ Marks said, adding that he thought ‘that is probably an appropriate penalty. I just don’t want it to happen again.’”
Now if Marks, Mr. Homan, the council, and the county executive had done their jobs—which means that they conducted an investigation as they have the authority to do, and issued subpoenas to find the truth—we wouldn’t be where we are now, which is “in the dark.”
As always, though, homework is required to look into these matters.
Here is Section 1008 of the County Code/Charter:
Subpoena power. The county council, the county executive, the county administrative officer, the personnel and salary advisory board, the county board of appeals, the county auditor and such other officers or agencies of the county as may be so empowered by legislative act of the county council or otherwise by law shall have the power to administer oaths, to compel the attendance of witnesses and to require the production of records and other materials in connection with any investigation, inquiry or hearing authorized by this Charter or by law.
There is a lot more legalese involved here, and you may want to read this ditty regarding Mr. Kamenetz.
I guess it takes a State Delegate to stand up for the county’s residents, since our county leadership (Blogger’s note: this term is used very loosely) didn’t do it for us.
Now if this was Mayberry, and I know Barney Fife is busy, but the county has a rather large pile of “Barneys” to handle the load … even if they all only have one bullet in their guns.