Saturday  •  January 4, 2020

Open Meetings Act Complaint Filed Against HCPSS Board of Education

The complaint below was submitted on December 18, 2019 to the Open Meetings Act (OMA) Compliance Board, detailing recurring OMA violations via electronic communications between BOE members over the past year. The BOE has until January 17, 2020 to respond to this complaint.

 

These apparent violations demonstrate that the Board has been repeatedly violating the Open Meetings Act via electronic communication prior to them significantly and spectacularly committing an OMA violation during the final vote on this year’s school redistricting plan at their November 21, 2019 meeting.

 

These violations have occurred under the leadership of Chair Mavis Ellis, despite the fact that she completed the required Open Meetings Act training on approximately January 25, 2018 (as detailed here), and she should clearly know the rules regarding this process.

In a statement made at the HCPSS Board of Education meeting on December 17, 2019 , Chair Ellis repeatedly emphasized that the Board did not intend to violate the Open Meetings Act —- that it was not done so willingly.

However, with evidence that the Board has been frequently disregarding these Open Meetings Act rules via email prior to the apparent violation during the meeting on November 21st, it is hard to believe that the violation did not occur willingly, or at least with willful neglect. Instead of a one-time mistake, this appears to be a recurring willful neglect for the rules established in the Open Meetings Act by Chair Ellis and other members of the Board. 
Perhaps this topic will be on the agenda for the closed session at the January 7, 2020 BOE meeting.

These recurring OMA violations raise a serious question:  With such willful neglect for the rules, why did Mavis Ellis earn four votes towards retaining her position as Chair of the BOE for another year and refuse to relinquish this position after repeated voting sessions ending in 4-4 ties?

 

Here is the evidence submitted for Allegation 1 in this complaint, with links to the MPIA responses that contain the evidence of email OMA violations:

Evidence: The Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) provides an online database of all Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) requests and responses.

 

MPIA 2019-174 – On April 22, 2019, at least 4 Board members vote to approve altered testimony before the County Council, which is not one of the exemptions for conducting a public meeting per Maryland General Provisions §3–305

 

MPIA 2019-08 – On July 28, 2019, a quorum of Board members voted in closed meeting (over email) regarding support of a bill before the County Council. “A majority agreed via email on submitting it” was one of the statements in these emails.

 

MPIA 2020-041 – On August 13, 2019, a quorum of Board members met in closed meeting (over email) to discuss a County Council resolution requesting certain actions from the Board of Education.

 

Allegation 2: The Howard County Board of Education is violating the Open Meetings Act by not frequently not presenting closed meeting minutes at their next open meeting. Maryland General Provisions §3–306 (c)(2)

• November 13, 2019 closed meeting. There was an open session on November 14, 18, and 21. Meeting minutes were finally presented on December 5, 2019.

 

• September 11, 2019 closed meeting. There was an open session on September 18. Meeting minutes were finally presented on September 19, 2019.

 

• July 9, 2019 closed meeting. There was an open session on July 11. Meeting minutes were finally presented on August 20, 2019.

 

• May 23, 2019 closed meeting. There was an open session on June 3 and 6. Meeting minutes were finally posted on June 13, 2019.

 

Allegation 3: The Board of Education violated the Open Meetings Act on November 21, 2019 as alleged in a previous complaint filed the same day. On December 17, 2019, the Board Chair read a resolution regarding the vote in question from November 21 that was the subject of the OMA complaint – admitting the violation of the OMA. The agenda listed “ratification of vote for redistricting”. Several Board members suggested that the text of the ratification of the vote was not provided to them prior to the meeting, but the ratification of the vote itself was placed on the agenda almost a week prior, one day after their closed meeting on the subject of the OMA violation. However, the discussion of the OMA violation was not announced on the Board’s agenda for interested constituents to know it would be discussed on the 17th. The video of this exchange can be found here

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