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Attorney General: It's OK for Frazier to be commissioner and public school employee

District 3 Carroll County Commissioner Dennis Frazier speaks during the State of the County Address on Tuesday at the Carroll County Arts Center, in Westminster.
District 3 Carroll County Commissioner Dennis Frazier speaks during the State of the County Address on Tuesday at the Carroll County Arts Center, in Westminster. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

After more than a year of complaints and questions regarding Commissioner Dennis Frazier's positions as both a county commissioner and an employee of Carroll County Public Schools, the Maryland Attorney General has issued an opinion on the matter, stating that there is no reason in state law that Frazier shouldn't be able to maintain both roles.

"The office of county commissioner, which includes the function of serving ex officio on the school board, is not incompatible with employment by the school board as a teacher," Attorney General Brian Frosh said in an opinion issued in late July. The response was co-signed by Adam Snyder, the AG's chief counsel of opinions and advice. The office did not offer an opinion on whether Frazier should be permitted to vote on school-related issues.

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The opinion came at the request of Rochelle Eisenberg, legal council for the school system, who had asked that the Attorney General weigh in on the issue on behalf of the Board of Education.

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Frazier, R-District 3, a part-time teacher at East Middle School and a wrestling coach at Century High School, was elected to the county's Board of Commissioners in November 2014. The issue of whether his employment by the school system constitutes a conflict of interest, and violates the county ethics code, was first raised in the Republican primary election and had dogged him ever since.

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Eisenberg asked whether a commissioner employed by the school system should be able to vote on matters related to the schools, especially on school funding, and whether the two positions should be considered incompatible.

On whether there is an incompatibility between the two jobs, the opinion stated that the commissioners' ability to sit as ex-officio, non-voting, members of the Board of Education adds a layer of complexity to the matter but ultimately does not forbid Frazier from continuing in his current roles.

The commissioner seat and employment by CCPS do not involve one office that is subordinate to the other or a situation in which one office has the power to hire or fire or directly set the salary for the other, the opinion states. Additionally, his position as a teacher in the system does not involve him in the preparation of the CCPS budget, it says.

While a job as a teacher in the school system would likely be incompatible with a voting seat on the Board of Education, the opinion concluded that the seat on Board of Commissioners, where members do not vote on the systemwide CCPS budget, does not pose the same conflict.

"The fact that the ex-officio board member does not have a vote [on the school board] would at least lessen the conflict of interest that would exist if a public school teacher served as a voting member of the school board," the opinion states. "The nonvoting member might still be able to influence the board by making his views known during the board's deliberations, but he would not be able to directly affect, by voting, how the board acts with respect to matters of interest to public school teachers."

On whether Frazier should vote on matters concerning the school system, that decision is up to county law and Carroll's ethics ordinance, the opinion said.

"It is our policy not to construe local laws in our opinions, and therefore we offer no opinion on that issue," the opinion stated.

For Frazier, it was a final note in a long battle.

"I'm just glad [the opinion] finally came out," said Frazier, who said that, while commissioners rotate committee assignments, he will not sit as the board's ex-officio member of the school board while he is employed by CCPS. Commissioner Richard Rothschild currently serves in that position.

Frazier said he was happy to have the attorney general's opinion, though he said he was confident before he ran for the seat that he was within the state and county's ethical bounds.

"I felt fairly confident that it would come out this way," he said.

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