Wednesday  •  January 22, 2020

A Concerning Pattern of Statutory Violations by the HCPSS Board of Education

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): A concerning pattern of statutory violations and ‘inadvertent mistakes’ have been made by the BOE over the past two months  that is eroding public confidence and trust.

 

Since the admitted Open Meetings Act (OMA) violation that the HCPSS BOE committed during the final school redistricting vote on November 21, 2019, a slew of of complaints have been submitted to the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board, including 20-15, 20-17, 20-19 and 20-20 

OMA complaint 20-17 was submitted on December 18, 2019 , with a reply required within 30 days (by January 17, 2020), as seen in one of the letters attached to this post. On January 17, 2020, the attached email from private legal counsel was received, claiming that while the BOE (Chairwoman Mavis Ellis) had sent their office the actual complaint soon after it was received, Ms. Ellis irresponsibly hadn’t sent the actual ‘request for reply within 30 days’ letter from the Open Meetings Compliance Board (OMCB) until the very due date of January 17, 2020 , and as such, Ms. Bresler was requesting a 10 day extension for the reply.

 

Public trust and confidence in the HCPSS Board of Education and Chair Ellis’s leadership continues to be eroded with each new example of ‘inadvertent errors’, misleading statements and examples of restricted/compartmentalized access to information for certain BOE members on critical issues.

As detailed in a reply tom the OMCB below, there is serious concern that these tardy replies may in fact be due to circuit court complaints and State Board of Education appeals that have been filed to challenge the redistricting plan that the Board approved this Fall during which a significant OMA violation (detailed in OMA complaint 20-15) occurred.

 

By not complying in a timely manner to these OMA complaints, the HCPSS BOE and Ms. Bresler are increasing the possibility that the decisions by the OMA Board on this OMA complaints will not be received in time to be included in these important circuit court complaints by the plaintiffs.

Here is a full reply to the OMCB and Judy Bresler, which details this concerning pattern of statutory violations that have been made by Ms. Ellis over the past two months:

 

Thank you for the update regarding the status of the HCPSS response to OMA complaint 20-17. While I hope and expect that this error was indeed inadvertent as Ms. Bresler states, it must be noted that this will be the second time in the span of one month that a response to an OMA complaint from the office of Ms. Judith Bresler on behalf of HCPSS will be sent significantly tardy.

 

The response to OMA complaint 2020-15 (initiated on November 21, 2019) was submitted four days after the 30-day deadline (on December 27, 2019 versus its due date of December 23, 2019). In that response, the language “unfortunate and unintentional error” was used to describe actions by the HCPSS Board of Education (BOE) at their open meeting on November 21, 2019 “which resulted in a violation of the Open Meetings Act”.

 

There now appears to be a concerning pattern of statutory violations being made by the chair of the HCPSS Board of Education, Ms. Mavis Ellis, over the past two months related to BOE OMA violations and OMCB complaints:

 

(1) the claimed “unfortunate and unintentional error which resulted in a violation of the Open Meetings Act” by the chair of the HCPSS BOE, Ms. Mavis Ellis, during the open meeting on November 21, 2019 despite being formally trained in the Open Meetings Act and having acknowledged on a local podcast on March 9, 2019 that she was aware of the rules against having Board policy discussion with a quorum present outside of a formal open or closed BOE meeting (at approximately 28 minute 44 second mark of this podcast, in response to the question “Is this a Board meeting?” asked by co-host of the podcast since three BOE members were present , BOE Chair Ellis replied “We are ok because we are not having discussions.”)

 

(2) a response to OMA complaint 20-15 (focused on this November 21, 2019 OMA violation) submitted four days after the 30-day deadline , with no request for extension requested nor granted. Prior to being sent to the OMA Board, part of this tardy response was read out loud at the HCPSS BOE meeting on December 17 by Chair Mavis Ellis as a statement made on behalf of the entire Board. BOE member Christina Delmont-Small commented that “I believe that the statement read misleads the community as to what occurred during the recess and….I do not think that it’s appropriate that it was read into the record and I do not support it. “

 

Additionally, personal notes taken by BOE representative Vicky Cutroneo regarding this statement are now available which detail just how misleading (and in some instances false) this public statement read by Ms. Ellis (and subsequent response issued to OMCB complaint 20-15) actually was.

 

(3) the claimed ‘inadvertent mistake’ by Ms. Ellis to not forward the official ‘request for reply within 30 days’ letter for OMA complaint 20-17 to their legal counsel (Ms. Judith Bresler) until the due date of January 17, 2020 despite the fact that the ‘request for reply within 30 days’ letter was sent by OMCB on December 18, 2019 to Ms. Ellis as well as to Superintendent Michael Martirano and the BOE held a closed session on January 8, 2020 to discuss OMA complaint 2020-17, as detailed in the attached agenda (pdf file attached). Ms. Bresler also indicates that she did indeed receive the actual OMA 20-17 complaint soon after it was submitted. Having recently represented HCPSS for OMA complaint 20-15, this process is not new to her and she should be aware of the procedure to reply within 30 days of HCPSS receipt of an OMA complaint.

 

There is serious concern that these tardy replies may in fact be due to circuit court complaints that have been filed to challenge a controversial comprehensive school redistricting plan that the Board approved at the November 21, 2019 BOE meeting during which a signficant OMA violation (detailed in OMA complaint 20-15) occurred. By not complying in a timely manner to these OMA complaints, the HCPSS BOE and Ms. Bresler are increasing the possibility that the decisions by the OMA Board on this OMA complaints will not be received in time to be included in these important circuit court complaints by the plaintiffs.

 

I request that this pattern of significantly tardy responses and procedural errors as well as the veracity of the repeated claims of “inadvertent mistakes” and “unintentional errors” be added to the file of OMA complaint 20-17 and be given serious consideration as OMA complaint 20-17 and all other recent OMA complaints against the HCPSS BOE (e.g. 20-15, 20-19, 20-20) are reviewed. “

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