www.baltimoresun.com/explore/howard/news/ph-ho-cf-dyer-0802-20120801,0,7377823.story

baltimoresun.com

Cost of removing Dyer from school board: $63,000 and climbing

By Sara Toth, stoth@tribune.com

8:48 AM EDT, August 1, 2012

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Allen Dyer's decade-long history of legal complaints against the Howard County Board of Education has run up a steep bill for county taxpayers. But it's an effort to remove Dyer from the board — initiated by his fellow board members — that's costing taxpayers now.

According to information from the school system's legal services office, the legal costs so far of the ouster proceedings instituted by the board against Dyer total $63,073.69.

However, those costs only include legal fees related to the case during fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, according to schools spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove. The figure does not include the cost of an additional three days of testimony and arguments and a failed settlement hearing in July, or any other future costs associated with the proceedings.

The costs also do not include any expenses filed by board members for gas and food. Last fiscal year, board members — including Dyer — expensed $2,102.18 in meals and gas for the hearings, according to the school system.

Dyer said he has expensed his gas mileage to and from Hunt Valley — 58 miles round-trip from the Department of Education in Ellicott City — and that's it. Other board members, like Board Chairwoman Sandra French expensed both gas and meals.

"I was there representing the board on a board matter," French said.

Howard County Education Association President Paul Lemle, noting that the cost of the legal proceedings is more than what the average Howard County teacher makes in a year, said it was money that should not have been spent.

"This (ouster attempt) is fundamentally a disagreement over how you handle minutes from meetings and closed sessions," Lemle said. "With seven elected people, they need to adopt rules they can all live with and stick with, and they haven't been able to get that done."

Ouster launched in 2011

In June 2011, the board majority voted to request the state Board of Education remove Dyer from his seat, charging misconduct for instances of bullying, releasing confidential information and acting unilaterally, among other grievances.

More than a year later, after 10 days of administrative hearings spread over three months, and still no decision, Dyer said he is still not certain with what misconduct he is being charged. Given the charges against him were "nebulous as hell," he said, defending himself against them contributed to the length of time the proceedings have taken.

"The time necessary was much greater than I would have expected from a clear charge of official misconduct," he said. "It's extremely frustrating, to say the least.

"At the end, when you see the allegations and what has been endless testimony, there's no meat. I didn't expect there to be any meat because I don't know that I did anything wrong. In fact, I'm pretty proud of everything I've done. It's a unique situation. I think it's unprecedented, and I hope it never happens again."

But board members who voted to remove Dyer said they hoped the case would set a precedent for what "misconduct" entails.

"There are still outstanding questions, and I think what constitutes misconduct has not been determined yet," said board member Ellen Giles.

French said the state needs to have a set definition of the term.

"It's now beyond the individual," she said. "It's 'are these actions acceptable as an elected board member?' If you reveal the information about a student, does it matter if the student is an elected student board member or a student-elected member of (a Student Government Association)? Does that compromise their rights under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)? Those are serious issues I think all board members, current and future, could benefit from (a decision on)."

History of legal action

Since taking his seat in 2008, Dyer frequently has found himself at odds with the board on issues like records retention and transparency and the Open Meetings Act. He often pursued legal action to address those issues, filing suit against the board even as a sitting member.

Since 2000, Dyer's lawsuits and legal complaints have cost the system $452,177, according to school system figures.

Dyer described the $63,000 as money "taken from the public coffers" and said the attempt of his fellow board members to remove him from the board was a political move.

The removal case fell into "lock step" with the primary election, Dyer said, and he never had a timely opportunity to clear his name. With almost a year between the time the board approved its resolution and the beginning of testimony, Dyer said, a lot of time passed during which his name was "dragged through the mud."

Dyer's term ends in December. He lost his bid for re-election in the April primary, where he only garnered 17.5 percent of the vote, coming in eighth place.

"Given what was spread out there, I wouldn't have voted for me," he said. "You can't rebut something that isn't specific."

The case to remove Dyer from the board is still ongoing, with final briefs due this month and in September.

Administrative Law Judge Douglas Koteen, who presided over the removal hearings, has 90 days to recommend a decision to the State Board of Education. The state board could make a ruling after oral arguments, and both the Howard board and Dyer could appeal the decision, meaning the impeachment case could still be pending after Dyer's already off the board.

"By definition, an impeachment is very personal," Dyer said. "They're saying I'm undesirable."

French insisted the removal process was never a personal issue.

"It was never about the person; it was about the actions," French said.