A former comptroller for the Carroll County Board of Education has volunteered to testify before a county grand jury, saying that the school board has for years "stonewalled" efforts to have a performance audit and that Superintendent William H. Hyde once tried to "blackmail" him.
In a letter hand-delivered to the Carroll County state's attorney Oct. 13 with a number of supporting documents, James E. Reter, a certified public accountant who was comptroller for the school system from 1979 to 1993, urged jurors to continue their inquiry into the Board of Education.
Hyde declined to respond to Reter's letter, saying he will not comment on issues before the grand jury.
The 23-member jury, impaneled in May, has been looking into the school system and its oversight of several troubled construction projects. Jurors have heard testimony from county Budget Director Steven D. Powell and school board member Susan W. Krebs.
Reter wrote that he is also willing to testify about his concerns, including questions about school system finances.
"The prevailing attitude among the administration of the Department of Education is that once money has been appropriated they can do what they want without oversight of any kind," he wrote.
Reter also wrote that Hyde tried to "blackmail" him "into silence" several years ago. In an interview, Reter said Hyde threatened to publicize love notes Reter received from a woman he was having an affair with while he was married.
Reter received the notes from a co-worker over a period of several months in 1987. When he retired from the school system in 1993, Reter said, he apparently forgot to remove all the notes from his office.
Three years later, he learned of his mistake in a chance meeting with Hyde, who was assistant superintendent of administration at the time. Hyde told him that he had found the personal correspondence and promised to return it, Reter said.
Reter said Hyde then threatened to release the letters to the press.
At the time, Reter had been accusing the school board of transferring funds between accounts without notifying the county commissioners, as required by state law.
"I think he was trying to shut me up," Reter said in an interview.
The day after the meeting, Reter wrote a letter to Hyde expressing his concerns and sent a copy to the state's attorney's office.
"Although you promised to return that correspondence, you indicated that you cannot guarantee that they had not been duplicated and may be turned over to the press. I feel a clearly implied threat that these personal letters may be duplicated and distributed," Reter wrote Feb. 9, 1996. Ten days later, Hyde returned Reter's personal letters in a manila envelope from his office and included a note.
"At no point in time did I ever threaten you or attempt to influence your position on any issue. I am personally offended by your allegations," Hyde wrote.
Reter said he came forward because "it is in the public interest if someone who is head of the school system would do something like this."