Friday • December 2, 2022
Guest Post: Effort to Roll Back Recent Howard County Board of Education Election is Undemocratic
By Gene Harrington
By Gene Harrington
Like thousands of jurisdictions throughout the country, Howard County recently held an election for its school board, resulting in the election of Dr. Linfeng Chen of North Laurel and Jacky McCoy of Columbia to four-year terms as at-large members on the county Board of Education (BOE). It is doubtful, however, that other communities have seen state lawmakers react by proposing legislation rolling back the outcome of the November 8 election.
Specifically, Howard County Senator Clarence Lam and Delegate Courtney Watson have put forward a bill decreasing Dr. Chen and Ms. McCoy’s terms to two-years. That provision is part of broader legislation – Howard County 10-23 – that reduces the number of elected BOE members from seven members to five and granting authority to the Howard County Executive to appoint two members, based on recommendations from the county’s legislative delegation, beginning in 2024. Under the measure, three of the elected members would be chosen by state Senate districts as opposed to the current system of election by each of the five councilmanic districts and two members would be elected at large or countywide. (The Howard County BOE also has a student member that sixth through eleventh graders elect but the pending bill does not affect that position.)
In addition to nullifying somewhat the results of this year’s election, Senator Lam and Delegate Watson are also literally defying the will of the Howard County voters. On November 7, 1972, Howard County voters approved a ballot question moving from the gubernatorial appointment of school board members to an all elected BOE. (The popular election of school board members officially commenced in November of 1974). Although the vote to transition to an all-elected school board took place 50 years ago, nothing has happened in the intervening time to indicate that Howard Countians support giving up the right to elect all members of the county BOE.
In a November 15 press release, Senator Lam and Delegate Watson stated that they introduced the legislation because it would help in the implementation of the $3.8 billion Blueprint for Maryland’s Future legislation. Senator Lam also told the Baltimore Sun that,
“We’ve seen a lot of members get elected to the board that may not have quite as much depth in education policy or prior experience.”
-State Senator Clarence Lam
For the record, Dr. Chen is a structural engineer with a Ph.D in Applied Mechanics from the University of Virginia who has three children attending Howard County public schools and serves on the BOE’s Operating Budget Review Committee and several other BOE advisory panels while Ms. McCoy campaigned on her 35-year career in education, including teaching math in Baltimore City and Howard County public schools.
Moreover, Senator Lam and Delegate Watson’s measure runs contrary to the current trend of moving to all elected BOEs. Anne Arundel and Wicomico Counties recently shifted to all-elected BOEs and earlier this year the Prince George’s County legislative delegation spearheaded the passage of legislation moving the county’s BOE from a hybrid board to an all elected one, starting in 2024.
Presently, only five of Maryland’s 24 local BOEs – Baltimore City and Baltimore, Caroline, Harford, and Prince George’s Counties – appoint some members to their respective BOEs. State lawmakers are not formally involved in the process of appointing BOE members in any of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions, as proposed in Senator Lam and Delegate Watson’s bill.
As of 2024 only Baltimore City and Harford County will grant the authority to appoint BOE members to local officials, and those processes differ greatly from the proposed legislation. Meanwhile, Baltimore and Caroline Counties grant such power to the Governor. Traditionally, the Governor – not local officials – has had the authority to appoint members to local BOEs because BOEs are state agencies – albeit ones with local flavor – and putting a state agency under the thumb of a county government raises significant governance questions.
The bill is even more puzzling when you consider that – thanks to legislation the Howard County legislative delegation put forward and that passed in 2017 and 2019, respectively – Howard County just transitioned from electing seven at large BOE members to electing five BOE members by councilmanic districts and two at large members. In fact, the 2020 election was the first-time members were elected by councilmanic districts and this November’s election completed the transition to the new structure.
While there are many objectionable aspects of the bill, the politics of the measure are particularly odious. Like other local BOEs in Maryland, the Howard County BOE is non-partisan and candidates do not run under a political affiliation, unlike state lawmakers and the County Executive. Over the years, political parties and partisan interest groups have largely refrained from making contributions or endorsements in BOE races. Unfortunately, that has changed over the past couple of election cycles. Indeed, in this year’s election, members of Howard County’s legislative delegation – including Senator Lam – contributed large amounts from their campaign funds to one of the losing candidates. (In the interests of full disclosure, I contributed to and voted for the other losing candidate and voted for Dr. Chen.) Consequently, the optics of a state lawmaker, whose preferred candidate lost an election, proceeding to spearhead legislation that undercuts the results of said election, are appalling.
The Howard County legislative delegation will begin consideration of the Lam-Watson bill in mid-December. There is, however, zero justification for supporting legislation that sabotages the results of the November 8 election. Howard County voters consciously elected Dr. Chen and Ms. McCoy to four-year terms. It is beyond arrogant for lawmakers to support a bill cutting their term in half; Howard County 10-23 is undemocratic and should be summarily rejected by the Howard County legislative delegation.
More background and details on this issue can be found in the following recent HoCo Watchdogs post: *Red Alert*: State Senator Clarence Lam and Delegate Courtney Watson are Attempting a Partial Takeover of the HCPSS Board of Education
If this proposed bill concerns you, please submit testimony to the Delegation: https://www.howardcountymd.gov/state-delegation
Also, if you would like to protest this bill, consider attending this event: https://www.facebook.com/events/666505528455864/
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 11pm. Signup will be available online from 6pm on 12/12 until 6:30pm on 12/14. In person signup will also be available until 6:50pm on 12/14 outside the Banneker Room. The link to the form will be posted here in the coming weeks. It is recommended that you bring 13 copies of written testimony if it accompanies oral testimony. Speaking is not a requirement, so written testimony may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.”
DISCLAIMER: This post is a HoCo Watchdogs Guest Reader Contribution.
The opinions and views expressed in this publication are solely those of the listed author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of HoCo Watchdogs, LLC or the HoCo Watchdogs main blog author, Steven Keller.
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