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Ulman says school board strife factored in decision to change its structure

Laws and LegislationJustice SystemKen Ulman

On Tuesday morning in Hunt Valley, Howard County school board member Allen Dyer asked an administrative law judge to dismiss his fellow board members' request to have him removed.

Later that afternoon in Ellicott City, County Executive Ken Ulman and state Del. Frank Turner announced a bill that would transform the school board from its current seven-member, at-large, elected format to one with five members elected by district and two at-large appointments.

It's coincidental that the two developments occurred on the same day, but Ulman acknowledged that they were related.

Ulman expressed concern about the personality clashes between Dyer and other members of the board, which passed a resolution June 9 requesting that the state school board remove Dyer. County school board members accused Dyer of repeatedly filing lawsuits against the board and violating its confidentiality agreements, among other things.

Ulman said that when he considered, among other factors, the issues surrounding the board, he concluded that the county "needed to do something different" regarding its makeup. The bill, which is being drafted and must be adopted by the legislature, indicates that the county executive would choose the two appointees, with County Council approval.

Ulman spelled out his concerns about the board's internal strife, noting "the internal issues with the move to remove one of the members; the kind of activities you've seen in relation to that member; and the challenges that has placed on the board, the challenges it has placed on central staff, the number of requests and fishing expeditions during my term that have been asked by the board."

"I hear from staff all the time about how [the issues on the school board] have damaged the morale of central office staff," Ulman said. "Look, we've had a history of great people getting elected for the right reasons in Howard County on the Board of Education. I think that, candidly, that might be breaking down over a couple of recent cycles."

The county switched from an appointed board to an elected board in the 1970s and went from a five-member body to seven members several years ago. Some county residents have argued that replacing two elected seats for appointed seats would be a step backward. Ulman disagreed, pointing to county governing bodies that currently include appointed members.

The county's School Board Study Commission was created by Ulman, who sought to address some county residents' concerns about what they considered a lack of racial and geographic diversity on the board.

The school board has argued against choosing voters by district and adding appointed members, as it attempts to oust an elected member. The case against Dyer was transferred to the Office of Administrative Hearings on July 13, and Dyer ultimately filed a motion to dismiss.

Administrative law judge Douglas Koteen, who heard Dyer's motion Tuesday, has said he would make a decision on whether to dismiss the case by Oct. 27.

Dyer's lawyer, Harold Burns, has argued that the school board has not produced specific evidence to support its claims against Dyer in its resolution to oust him.

On Tuesday, he said Howard voters knew that Dyer had openly expressed his dissatisfaction with the board's approach to tackling education issues when they elected him.

Burns added, "Mr. Dyer is here today because [those who voted to oust him] and he do not get along. No one will deny that Mr. Dyer is not collegiate. He is not warm and cuddly. He does not go along to get along. He has been suing the board for 10 years or more.

"The people of Howard County knew perfectly well when they elected him that Mr. Dyer liked to sue the board, and they elected him anyway," Burns continued. "So what exactly are the accusations against Mr. Dyer? That really is the question, because you'll never find out from reading the resolution."

Judy Bresler, the attorney for the board, said the specifics behind the resolution to oust Dyer will be presented during later proceedings.

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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