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Monday •  November 14, 2022

*Red Alert*: State Senator Clarence Lam and Delegate Courtney Watson are Attempting a Partial Takeover of the HCPSS Board of Education

Bottom Line Up Front:  In their 2023 Proposed Local Legislation, the Howard County State Delegation has proposed a bill (Ho. Co. 10-23) that will disenfranchise Howard County voters by giving the Howard County Executive the right to bypass the electoral process and directly appoint two HCPSS Board of Education members every four years.

 

Are the citizens of Howard County really not worthy of the power to elect all of the public officials that oversee how more than $1 billion of their taxpayer dollars are spent?

 

Currently, Howard County adult residents have direct power to elect 7 out of 8 Board members: 

  • 5 County Councilmanic District representatives, one per district, elected by residents of each District during Presidential election cycles
  • 2 countywide “At-Large” representatives, elected by all members of the county during Gubernatorial election cycles
  • 1 student member, elected by the 6th-11th grade HCPSS student bodies from a pool candidates selected by a process involving HCPSS administrators, staff and student representatives.

 

The proposed Ho. Co. 10-23 bill, signed by the “Howard County State Delegation, Chair” (currently chaired by Senator Clarence Lam and Delegate Courtney Watson), gives the Howard County Executive the power to appoint two HCPSS Board members every four years and to scrap the five County District-specific Board members, replacing them with just three State Legislative District-specific (Districts 9, 12, and 13) Board members.

 

The final proposed breakdown of the HCPSS Board of Education, if this bill passes, will be as follows:

  • 3 State Legislative District-specific elected members, elected during Presidential election cycles
  • 2 “At-Large” Countywide elected members, elected during Gubernatorial election cycles
  • 2 Appointed members, selected every Presidential election cycle by the Howard County Executive from a list of candidates provided by the Howard County State Delegation
  • 1 Student member

 

Here are the pertinent details of this proposed bill:

There are many serious problems with this proposed bill:

 

Dilution of Representation

First and foremost, the proposed bill will reduce the elected representation for non-student Howard County residents from 7 out of 8 members (87.5%) down to 5 out of 8 members (62.5%) — a whopping 25%.  This significantly dilutes the representative oversight power of the Howard County voting populace for governance of HCPSS – a county entity that operates with a budget of over 1 billion dollars. 

Conflict of Interest

The two new appointed Board members will be hand-picked every Presidential election cycle by the Howard County Executive from a list provided by the Howard County State Delegation.  Each of these political entities influences and controls the budgets for many different facets of HCPSS, including the Operating and Capital Planning budgets, the SRO program, school infrastructure funding etc.  They also influence many other county-level functions that directly impact HCPSS such as residential zoning and development, the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) etc.

 

It is a dangerous conflict of interest to allow those who control the purse strings of HCPSS to personally select two out of the seven adult HCPSS Board members.  25% of the HCPSS Board of Education will completely bypass the electoral process and will effectively be the County Executive’s and State Delegation’s personal representatives.

Unequal Political Voting Representation – Constitutional “Equal Protections” Clause Concerns

Replacing the five current County-level District representatives with three State Legislative District-level representatives raises serious constitutional concerns about unequal representation

 

The three State Legislative Districts that Howard County resides in, Districts 9, 12, and 13, vary drastically in population sizes — much more than any of the five Howard County Councilmanic Districts.  State Legislative District 12 has 44,581 less Howard County residents than District 13 and 27,804 less residents than District 9.  In contrast, the largest difference in estimated county Councilmanic District populations is between District 2 and 4, with District 4 have 3,501 less residents than District 2.

The massive disparity in voting populations between State Legislative Districts, particularly those that are split between Howard County and a neighboring county, means is that voters in these smaller-population split districts will effectively get more “power per vote”.

Unequal Geographic Representation

Councilmanic District candidates were established in Howard County in 2020 to due to concerns that all regions of the county were not being equally represented on the Board of Education.  The proposed bill will replace two of the current Councilmanic District-elected Board seats with County Executive-appointed seats that could come from any geographic region.

 

In its current form, the bill states the following as guidance for the County Executive to follow for these appointed positions:

There is nothing in this bill’s guidance about ensuring that the county board reflects the geographic diversity of the population of Howard County.  This will a major step backwards in ensuring sufficiently diverse Board representation and will further politicize the selection process for these two appointed seats.

Outside Howard County Influence on the HCPSS Board of Education

With the proposed bill, the Howard County State Delegation would provide the Howard County Executive with a list of candidates to pick two new Board of Education members for every 4-year Presidential election cycle. 

 

The Howard County State Delegation is comprised of politicians who have been elected by both Howard County residents as well as residents from other counties.  Only four out of the twelve members are elected strictly by Howard County voters (State Legislative District 13).  Four other members are partially elected by Montgomery County residents (State Legislative District 9) and the remaining four members are partially elected by Anne Arundel county (State Legislative District 12).

 

Why should State Delegates and Senators who are partially elected by residents in other counties be given the privilege to hand pick the candidates for two seats on the HCPSS Board of Education?  

Gerrymandering

There is increased risk that replacing the existing County District-specific member seats with State District-specific member seats makes these seats much more prone to political meddling by means of State District gerrymandering, further politicizing the HCPSS Board of Education electoral process.

Call to Action for All Concerned County Residents

 

Are you concerned about this proposed billHere’s what you can do about it:

 

There is a Public Hearing for this bill (Ho. Co. 10-23) that will take place on Wednesday, December 14, from 7:00 PM – 9:30 PM in the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building ( 3430 Court House Dr, Ellicott City, MD 21043 ).  Here are the official details about this hearing, published here:

 

“The Howard County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, chaired by Senator Clarence Lam and Delegate Courtney Watson, will hold a public hearing for citizen input on local legislation proposed for the 2023 General Assembly session. The hearing will be held in the Banneker Room in the George Howard building from 7pm until approximately 9:30pm. Signup will occur from 6:20 pm-6:50pm outside the Banneker Room. Please bring 13 copies of written testimony if it accompanies oral testimony. Speaking is not a requirement, so written testimony may also be emailed to hoc1@mlis.state.md.us .

 

The hearing will be live streamed here.

 

If necessary, a second hearing on December 15th at 7pm will be held via Zoom to hear testimony that could not be heard on the first night. An announcement will be made if this is the case. The hearing will be live streamed on the Maryland General Assembly website (http://mgaleg.maryland.gov).

 

If you have any questions, or require accommodation, please email hoc1@mlis.state.md.us

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