In 2008, on his fourth attempt, Ellicott City lawyer Allen Dyer was elected to the Howard County Board of Education. What followed was a term Dyer now describes as fulfilling and, ultimately, a "watershed."
"We're coming to a point where the elected board has started to behave more like an elected board," Dyer said. "We used to be an appointed board, and it takes awhile to switch mentalities, but I think we're there."
The mentality and culture of the school board is something Dyer often found himself at odds with during his term, a term that is in its final days. Dyer's bid for re-election was denied by voters in the April primary, when he finished eighth in a field of 15 candidates, and on Monday, Dec. 3, his term ends.
At his last public meeting Nov. 15, Dyer received a standing ovation from board members, staff and the public after the traditional resolution honoring him was unanimously passed by the board — the same board that last year voted to oust Dyer from his seat.
Read by board member Cindy Vaillancourt, the resolution praised Dyer for his "steadfast persistence championing transparency" from the board and school system, his willingness to "ask thought-provoking questions that led to lively and stimulating discussions," his attention to programs that "focused on applicable life skills, career readiness and technology education" and his "advocating tirelessly for student safety."
The board also noted Dyer's "leading the charge" to publicly apologize for a racially segregated school system, which Dyer had been requesting for more than a year.
During his at-times contentious four-year term, Dyer has disagreed with the board majority with regards to transparency and record retention, among other issues. Once, worried that Dyer would divulge confidential information, then-Chairwoman Janet Siddiqui abruptly called a meeting into recess and walked out of the room, and ethics complaints regarding alleged inappropriate lobbying of the student board member against Dyer were quietly dropped shortly after the confidential charges were made public.
Dyer's first legal action against the board came in 2001 — an open meetings act lawsuit that ultimately cost the board $372,755. Dyer also filed numerous actions, appeals and complaints against the board during his term.
In comparison, the costs to remove Dyer from the board total $84,580 as of Nov. 1.
"It pales in comparison to the cost of the credibility of the board and the board's culture," Dyer said, and described the ouster attempt as "inappropriate, poorly thought-out, not respectful to me or the voters, and hair-brained."
In June 2011, the board voted to request the state Board of Education remove Dyer from his seat. The case finally went before an administrative law judge in May, and hearings extended throughout the summer. A decision from the administrative law judge on Dyer's removal must be made by Dec. 5 — two days after Dyer's term ends, and Dyer said he'd appeal any decision to have him ousted. He said he already has an action filed in the Court of Special Appeals protesting the process.
"I don't want any elected member in the future to be put through this type of horse and pony show," he said.
Ultimately, Dyer said, "the impeachment of Allen Dyer wasn't about Allen Dyer; it was about a board culture that's taking its last breath. This is a transition, and transitions are painful."
De Lacy: Dyer 'demonized'
Ann De Lacy, the former president of the Howard County Education Association who won Dyer's open seat in the November election, said Dyer championed openness and collaboration with the public, and always questioned the board's attempts to make decisions behind closed doors.
Had Dyer "taken his message to the people," De Lacy said, he likely would have had more support.
"He could have been less litigious, but he did not have to be demonized," she said.
Dyer defended his lawsuits, saying that with the separation of powers in government, the judiciary system acts to balance the power. In the case of the lawsuit over record retention (the board did approve a record retention policy more than a year after that lawsuit was dismissed in 2010), he said he had tried everything else to resolve the issue.
"It's easy to make an emotional argument with the public that litigation is expensive, but over time as people look at what I was litigating and what I was saying, it will be understood that I was doing something that had to be done," Dyer said. "You have to do the right thing according to your understanding of what's right."
Some in the Howard community say that Dyer might be more effective in helping to shape school policy when he's no longer on the board.
Chris Wertman, immediate past president of the Howard County Community Advisory Council, pointed out that Dyer's repeated lawsuits against the board before he was elected may have undermined his ability to serve.
"I think he brought a lot of great ideas to the board." Wertman said. "The unfortunate part is, because of the history he had prior to being elected, I think there was a certain tension and relationship with the other board members that even some of Allen's very good ideas were not accepted, and even discussed in any way until several new board members came on who would at least second his motion and allow for some level of discussion.
"We lost as a community, and the board lost as an organization because some of those things were not discussed," Wertman added. "In some ways, Allen may be more productive as an outsider and not an insider because of the dynamics and relationship he had with other members of the board."
Former Howard County Council member Lloyd Knowles wondered how Dyer's departure might affect the way the board governs.
"I would imagine there will be less public understanding of any kind of problems that come up, and there will be more of 'Let's keep it within the family and try to work things out and if they don't, let's go along with the majority,'" Knowles said. "Too many boards adopt that kind of thing, and that's why they have whistle-blower laws in government and the commercial area."
Dyer said now was not the time to decide whether or not to run again for the board, but he will continue to "advocate for what I believe is the best course to take on educational issues.
"The public school system is a lot bigger than a small group of elected officials," Dyer said. "It's a community, and there's ways for me to continue to contribute, and I intend to do that."
Baltimore Sun reporter Joe Burris contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun