By Sara Toth, firstname.lastname@example.org
3:17 AM EDT, April 4, 2012
When the Howard County Board of Education voted in June 2011 to oust one of its own members, Allen Dyer, he denounced the process as undemocratic, arguing that only the voters could remove him from office.
The voters did just that this week.
In the April 3 primary election, Dyer finished eighth in a field of 15 candidates, failing to make the cut-off for the general election and a shot at retaining his seat.
"No one is irreplaceable; that's the beauty of democracy," Dyer said after the votes were counted. "It's the nature of the beast. It's the will of the people."
While Dyer failed to make the cut, two other incumbents and four challengers will move on to the general election in November, including, in order, incumbent Janet Siddiqui, Ann De Lacy, incumbent Ellen Giles, Jackie Scott, David Gertler and Bob Ballinger.
Ballinger's spot on the general election ballot is not guaranteed; former board member Patricia Gordon, 88, of Ellicott City, trails Ballinger by only 248 votes, and the absentee and provisional ballots had not yet been counted.
Howard County Board of Elections director Guy Mickley said there are about 500 absentee ballots on hand, though more could still come in. With the low turnout Tuesday, he did not expect the county to have more than a couple hundred provisional ballots, as-yet-unapproved votes cast on paper rather than on machines.
Topping the polls was Siddiqui, who has served on the board since 2007 and won nearly 40 percent more votes than her nearest rival.
"I'm thankful the voters of Howard County who came out today and last week during early voting," Siddiqui said. "I'm really pleased with the results, and I'm looking forward to continuing my work on the Board for the children and people of Howard County."
The second-highest vote total went to De Lacy, of Columbia, a first-time candidate, former Howard County teacher and former Howard County Education Association president. De Lacy said she didn't know what to expect when she began her campaign in January; she'd been around a long time and knew a lot of people, she said, but didn't know how that would translate into votes. Tuesday's results proved to De Lacy that people are ready for a change, she said.
"I think it was a compelling message they were hearing from me," she said. "People realize I'm passionate about education, and knowledgeable about education, and they realize I don't mind throwing rocks. When it comes to our heritage, our public commitment to education and the foundation that makes us a viable society, they know we cannot rest on our laurels."
De Lacy was followed in the polls by incumbent Giles, first-time candidate Scott, 45, of Columbia, and Ellicott City resident Gertler, 49, who ran for the board in 2010 but did not progress past the primary.
At Long Reach High School shortly before polls closed Tuesday, Scott said that as a first-time candidate, she was encouraged by the support she had received.
"I know now I made the right decision," said Scott, who received endorsements from the African American Coalition of Howard County, HCEA, and the Thurgood Marshall Democratic Club of Howard County. "For people to be able to see who I am and my authenticity in such a short time, imagine what can be done in the coming months."
A last-minute rush of filings resulted in an original field of 15 candidates running for three open seats on the board. After Kelly Casey Van Horn, a former Virginia teacher and Columbia mother dropped out of the race, the field included seven newcomers, three former candidates, three incumbents and one former board member.
Such a large field may actually have worked to the candidates' advantage, Gertler said Tuesday.
"This way, people have to figure out who they like, who they don't like," said Gertler, a math professor at Towson University and father of two children in the school system. "It forces them to do their homework, and be informed."
With Dyer losing his seat, the board will have at least one new face after the general election. And the entire board will also be working with a new superintendent, Renee Foose, currently deputy superintendent in Baltimore County, who was named as the Howard system's new leader March 27.
Observers credited this year's large field of candidates to several issues.
In August 2011, County Executive Ken Ulman commissioned a panel to study ways to increase diversity on the board, both racially (the board now has no black members) and geographically (the board has no members from Columbia or Elkridge).
The panel ultimately recommended a plan for five districted seats, with two seats appointed by Ulman, but that plan was dropped in the face of strong public opposition.
Also drawing attention to the board race was the contention surrounding Dyer.
"There's one person on the school board causing some dissension and costing the taxpayers lots of money," said Karen Arnold, of Columbia, as she left her polling place Tuesday at Swansfield Elementary School. "I want him voted out. I think we should all be able to work together."
Prior to being elected to the board on his fourth try in 2008, Dyer had sued the school board, or had represented individuals suing the board, numerous times. Two cases, filed during his term on the board, are still open. In December 2010, two ethics complaints were filed against Dyer by then-student member of the Board, Alexis Adams. The charges were quietly dismissed in May 2011.
This election, Dyer ran, as is the past, on a platform that included the need for increased board transparency. But his constant battles with the board majority — in the board room and in the courtroom — lead to the board voting in June 2011 to formally request the Maryland State Board of Education remove Dyer from his seat.
"Going into the race, I considered anything possible," Dyer said. "It's not a matter if it works out for me, it's a matter of whether it works out for our county."
He added: "I had the opportunity to serve for a term, and that's a real honor. I did everything I could do to set the stage for a change in the board culture, and I think it was my responsibility to do so. I think that culture has some real problems ... I'm hopeful that the efforts I've made will bear fruits."