"If Mr. Dyer has a conflict of interest here, it's because he defended Mr. Venter in that lawsuit," French said.

Venter's case was ultimately dismissed.

Board members Brian Meshkin and Aquino pointed out a conflict of interest on the part of Dyer.

"There's a conflict in discussing legal counsel and the role of legal counsel if you are actively engaged in litigation with us," Meshkin said. "There's a conflict in having a sitting board member suing the board that he sits on."

Submit a Letter to the Editor for the Laurel Leader, Columbia Flier and Howard County Times

After all the discussion, the board approved the three contracts by a 6-1 vote.

Hearing set for Sept. 27

Meanwhile, the board's request to have Dyer removed from its ranks is proceeding at the state level. A pre-hearing conference was held the same day as the board meeting. At that conference, an administrative law judge in Hunt Valley agreed to hear Dyer's request — filed July 13 — to have the complaint against him dismissed.

The hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 27, Dyer said, and a ruling must be made within 30 days. If the administrative law judge agrees to dismiss the board's request, the case then will go before the state school board. If either the board or Dyer contests the state board's decision, the case will then go to Circuit Court.

In the meantime, the Howard board must continue to meet. There is little that can be done to intervene if another situation arises in which Siddiqui is forced to call a recess, said local and state officials.

Despite the latest episode between Dyer and the board, Siddiqui and Aquino said the seven-member elected panel is still functioning.

"There's always the possibility of something coming up," Siddiqui said. "But now we can start the meetings not even knowing how long it will take to approve (something as routine as) the agenda."

"We're still getting the job done," Aquino added. "It just proceeds more slowly. Nothing in the schools is being delayed."

Siddiqui, who has attended several leadership conferences as board chairwoman, said calling the recess was the proper move at the Sept. 8 meeting.

"There's a need to maintain order, and I had called him out of order and he wasn't responding to that," she said. "One issue discussed (at leadership conferences) is when you have a board member being abusive to staff, or to other board members, and not following the rules, it's the order of the chair to call a recess."