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School board member calls proposed reform legislation 'a personal attack'

In an effort to further reform the Baltimore County Board of Education, Sen. Bobby Zirkin submitted legislation last month that would ban lobbyists and their spouses from appointment to the school board.

Zirkin, who represents District 10, said the bill was part of a larger look at the county school board selection process and would prevent an "appearance of impropriety" that could arise from politically connected families holding seats.

But the only sitting school board member whom the bill affects is Carney resident Valerie Roddy, who told the Baltimore County Senate delegation Thursday she thought the bill targeted her and her family specifically.

"I am disappointed that members of the Senate would use their office to launch a personal attack," Roddy, who was appointed from the 5th Councilmanic District which includes Towson and Perry Hall, told the committee. "They gave you no reasons, based on my actions as a board member these past four and a half years, to introduce such legislation.

"Therefore, I can only conclude that this is a personal attack designed to retaliate against anyone named Roddy," she said." I believe this legislation is unnecessary, misguided and petty."

Roddy said her husband, Patrick Roddy, is a lawyer with the law firm Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver in Annapolis. He is also a regulated lobbyist, Valerie Roddy said, though she said his firm has not represented anyone before the school board since her appointment in August 2008.

Zirkin said he has battled with Patrick Roddy and his firm when Zirkin fought to reverse a school board decision allowing a cell phone tower at Randallstown High, which Patrick Roddy's firm lobbied for in the mid-2000s.

But his personal feelings and the reasons why he introduced the bill are "two completely separate conversations," Zirkin said Friday, a day after the hearing.

"This has nothing to do with her," Zirkin said. "It's really that the focus should be on what should our school board look like? Should they be political appointees with ties to people who make money on politics, or should it be people from the community who are responsive to the community and responsible to the community? I believe the latter."

Zirkin's bill was met with some resistance, specifically from 6th District Sen. Norman Stone, who said he has known Roddy all her life and trusted that she would, if necessary, excuse herself from a vote that could be considered a conflict of interest.

Roddy said she appreciated Stone's remarks, and had faith that the delegation will "do the right thing" with the bill.

"Being a member of the Board of Education is a privilege, but it is a volunteer job and requires a lot of hours, and I'd like to think that as long as I have served, I have always thought of all of my votes and all of my decisions have been in the best interest of the children," Roddy said.

The Board of Education has not taken a position against the more sweeping school board reform which would add elected representation to Baltimore County's Board of Education for the first time.

Under the terms of SB 10, the county would adopt a "hybrid" board model. Six members would be elected and five would be appointed by the governor with input from the county executive. The 12th member would continue to be a student member. Currently, the governor appoints all but the student member.

The hybrid school board bill was scheduled for a vote by the delegation Thursday but was pushed back a week to wait for amendments to be finished.

The county delegation did, however, receive short reports on two of the technical issues they discussed at last week's delegation meeting. The senators asked the county and state Board of Elections about holding the school board elections during the primaries.

But the boards indicated it would be cost-prohibitive to hold non-partisan elections then, and also said the plan, which calls for six unique school board districts to be drawn by the County Council, could prove difficult for the election boards as well.

The Senate delegation will consider all amendments to the bill and plans to vote the bill on to the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Thursday, Feb. 14.

The county House delegation discussed the bill on Friday morning in its weekly delegation meeting, and District 42 Del. Steve Lafferty said the meeting was "pretty uneventful."

"It's certainly an issue with which the delegation is familiar," Lafferty said.

The delegate from Towson said the bill is largely the same as the one the county delegation passed last year, and he hopes that when the delegation votes Friday, Feb. 15, "I'll have unanimous support for the bill."

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