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School board convention still needed, members say


Maryland's governor may be prepared to ignore their top choice a seventh time, but members of the Anne Arundel County Board Nominating Convention Committee insist the convention they sponsor to select school board members hasn't outlived its usefulness.

"No, I don't think the convention is dead," said Charles Mosca, a member of the committee. "What we need are some assurances."

But past committee members say the process is deeply and perhaps fatally flawed.

"I quit because I was disgusted," said Joan Urbas, a former committee member now working with the county's League of Women Voters, which has endorsed an elected school board.

The convention was formed 25 years ago to allow citizens to screen school board candidates and to advise the governor in making his appointments.

But six times since 1989, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has ignored the convention's choice, largely based on the advice of County Executives James O. Lighthizer and Robert R. Neall.

Sometimes, as in the selection of Jo Ann Tolenger in 1989, the person selected to fill the vacancy didn't even go through the convention process.

On other occasions, as in the case of board member Thomas Twombly in 1991, the governor picked the convention's runner-up instead of the person who got the most votes -- Marge Rogalski. The committee's bylaws call for the names of the top two candidates to be submitted to the governor, but the intent for the top vote-getter to be selected by the governor is clear.

Once in a while, the top vote-getter is given the job, as Carlesa Finney was last year.

But the apparent trend of ignoring the convention's No. 1 choice seems likely to repeat itself with the nomination by Mr. Neall last month of Thomas Florestano, the retired Anne Arundel Community College president, instead of Nancy Shrum, who was convention's top choice.

"Does this undercut the nomination process? Not really," said the Rev. Charles Simms, chairman of the nominating convention committee.

"Dr. Florestano is one of the best-qualified people to serve. You couldn't ask for a better person."

Although Mr. Simms said he would have preferred the convention's choice be honored, it didn't really trouble him that Dr. Florestano did not go through the convention process.

"How can you ask Dr. Florestano the same questions you ask the people in the convention?" said Mr. Simms. "It's inconceivable to me that anyone would think he is not qualified. He is one of the best educators in the state."

But board member Thomas Twombly said that while Dr. Florestano was highly qualified, the nomination "was a severe blow to the committee."

"I enjoyed preparing for the convention, and it gives people an idea of what they can expect from you as a board member," Mr. Twombly said. "I mean, at some conventions it's obvious some candidates have no idea what's going on in the school system."

John Anderson, last year's convention committee chairman, said the mistake this year was that no one locked in the county executive's cooperation early on.

"Last year we had a press conference introducing all the candidates, and we invited Mr. Neall," he said, noting the committee did not do so again this year. "Tactically, we pinned his ears back."

Before 1990, Mr. Anderson said, "the convention choice was pretty much ignored, and at one point the whole board quit. So we made up our mind that we would do everything we could to keep it from being ignored. I'm sorry to hear this has happened."

Carolyn Roeding, who served on the committee with Mr. Anderson, said she generally felt the committee was "powerless."

But Mr. Mosca said that an organization with 162 voting delegates representing 8,500 county residents isn't powerless at all.

"That's not a small number. I think if we had some assurances from the county executive that he would abide by the process, you'd see more than double the participation in the convention," Mr. Mosca said. "Whatever flaws there are in the process, this convention still represents a large portion of the community."

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