Monday  •  April 27, 2020

The Mysterious Case of the HCPSS Board of Education Leaker

Over the past 8 months, there have been some serious email leaks coming from the HCPSS Board of Education. that have been extremely harmful to private citizens, to this past Fall’s redistricting process, and to the personal and professional livelihood of fellow Board members and their families. These leaks show a complete disregard for the official confidentiality of emails sent between Board members as well disregard for the rules related to the public release of community testimony.

 

The following list includes some of the most significant examples of these recent BOE leaks:

 

1) On September 5, 2019, a local journalist & HoCo citizen sent a letter sent to the BOE and County Council as testimony against County resolution CR-112. The following day, an MPIA was submitted that requested the details of this letter. The letter had not been published by the County yet, and it is clear that someone who received that email (a County Councilmember OR a BOE member) leaked the contents (or a summary) of this letter to others and suggested that they submit an MPIA to have it publishedMore details on this leak can be found in this post.

 

2) On October 27, 2019, BOE member Kirsten Coombs’ sent an email to fellow Board members about polygon 147 and her intent to make a motion to redistrict this polygon, just days after the release of a detailed report on polygon 147 election campaign donations and an analysis that questioned why they had not been included in this year’s redistricting plan.

 

 

Just days after Ms. Coombs sent this confidential email, polygon 147 residents began attending every subsequent redistricting work session and immediately following the next Board meeting, when BOE members were getting ready to go home for the night, a polygon 147 resident approached Kirsten Coombs (and ONLY Kirsten Coombs) and gave her a framed painting by the resident’s child, supposedly as a gift. Other than the confidential email that Ms. Coombs sent to her fellow Board members, there was no way for polygon 147 residents to know that Ms. Coombs was intending to make this motion. Clearly, a fellow Board member had tipped off polygon 147 residents about this email and the intent for a motion to be made to have them included in the redistricting plan.

 

In the end, no motion was ever made to move this polygon, and despite the excuse that polygon 147 had been recently deemed a “walker” polygon, the Board proceeded to move hundreds of walker students from that region in their final plan (e.g. from Longfellow ES and Swansfield ES)

 

3) On April 8, 2020, BOE member Vicky Cutroneo sent a confidential email to her fellow Board members regarding a narrowly-avoided conflict-of-interest issue that she had self reported and had withdrawn from the agenda of a recent Board meeting. Two weeks later, on April 24, a community member sent an MPIA request with intent to initiate an ethics complaint against Ms. Cutroneo regarding this issue. In that MPIA request the community member requests a copy of “any and all emails written to Howard County Board of Education members by Howard County Board of Education member, Vicky Cutroneo, with anything and everything related to a conflict of interest violation that exposes the advancement of a contract between her personal business and HCPSS”.  Full details of this incident are available here.

 

 

Similar to the MPIA request in example #1 above, this particular MPIA request implies foreknowledge by the requester of what they are looking for. Clearly, a Board member has leaked Ms. Cutroneo’s email (or a summary thereof) to one or more community members and recruited them to publicly request the letter via the MPIA process.

 

According to the Board of Education of Howard County Handbook , it is a Board member’s responsibility to:

 

“Observe confidentiality of all discussions and information not held in public session. That especially means spouses, family, and close friends. Board email is off-limits to them all. All discussions and information not held in public are confidential and may not be shared with anyone. This includes emails.”

This pattern of recent email leaks must be investigated immediately and the Board member(s) responsible for these leaks should be held publicly accountable for these violations.

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