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Another Try for an Elected School Board

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It comes as a shock to many people moving into Anne Arundel County from around the country and even most areas of Maryland that the nine-member county school board is not elected, but still appointed by the governor.

Seventeen Maryland counties have fully elected non-partisan boards, and some, like Howard County, moved to an elected board decades ago.

Republican delegates, led by freshman Sid Saab, are seeking to change that yet again, this time proposing a hybrid 10-member school board. Seven would be elected by council district and three would be appointed by the county executive — not the governor.

Many states, such as Pennsylvania, have many more school systems and many more local schools boards, elected and with taxing authority.

Maryland’s system is county based, with some of the largest school systems in the country not based in big cities. And their elected boards have no independent taxing authority, depending instead on the counties and the state for funding.

Is it possible that the election of a Republican governor would move the Democrats in the county’s House and Senate delegations, who hold a one vote majority, to move toward an elected board? House Speaker Michael Busch has opposed the move in the past, and last year the effort was killed in the House Ways & Means Committee.

As speaker, Busch voted for hybrid boards in other jurisdictions, such as Baltimore County, whose legislators debated having an elected board for years before the hybrid of elected and appointed board members finally passed last year.

Replacing Vitale

In addition to continuing to appoint the members of the Anne Arundel County School Board for the near future, Gov. Larry Hogan, a county resident, will get to appoint a replacement for Republican Delegate Cathy Vitale.

She was appointed to the Circuit Court in Annapolis by Gov. Martin O’Malley before he left office.

The Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee is going through the process of nominating candidates to the governor. It is a much more open process than is being used by GOP Central Committees in Carroll and Frederick counties to replace a senator and a delegate named by Hogan to his administration.

It’s no surprise that this suddenly open seat in solidly Republican District 33 has attracted 16 candidates, including four who ran and lost in last year’s Republican primary — Jamie Falcon, Jeff Ferguson, Jeff Gauges and Nora Keenan. Sid Saab edged them all out in the three-member district that runs from Crofton to Severna Park.

All 16 are to be interviewed by the Central Committee on March 3 and the balloting may take place that night.

Hogan is now asking for three names to choose from. Residents of Carroll County are pursuing a lawsuit that says the Maryland Constitution requires that the party central committee send the governor only one name, whom he must appoint. The governor doesn’t want his hands tied.

Members of the House and Senate from other areas of the state are proposing constitutional amendments that will cut the powers of the central committees to appoint someone who may serve almost a full four-year term. Instead, the legislation calls for special elections to choose a replacement, in some cases at the following presidential election (or even sooner with a special ballot).

Special elections allowing all voters to fill vacancies in elected office in Maryland are uncommon. Only Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have special elections to fill vacancies on their county councils. The federal Constitution requires special elections for vacancies in the U.S. House of Representatives, but not for the U.S. Senate.

Otherwise in Maryland, the filling of vacant seats is delegated to a small group of officials. That would be the party central committees for members of the legislature, or the county council in the case of filling the office of county executive in mid-term, as happened in 2013 when Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold resigned and was replaced by Laura Neuman.

Leopold Not in Hiding

Speaking of John Leopold, he has not slunk away after an embarrassing trial that found him guilty of abusing his powers of office with his staff and with police protection detail. Leopold is a regular correspondent with local newspapers such as The Capital and the Baltimore Sun, opining on public policy issues.

In a recent letter in the Sun, he wrote about legislation to apply the hotel tax to Internet travel bookers:

“As county executive, I secured the support of the County Council for legislation in 2011 that applied the hotel occupancy tax to online travel companies based on the retail, not the wholesale, price. The county has now raised revenue for several years that had previously been uncollected and has supported the pro-business principle that there should be an even playing field for actual hotels and motels and the online travel companies.”

There is speculation that Leopold, a former delegate, may seek elected office again.

‘Easy Rider,’ No Helmet

State Sen. John Astle of Annapolis, a former Marine helicopter pilot and motorcycle rider, is again proposing that motorcyclists in Maryland be allowed to ride without protective helmets — if they have health insurance to cover any accidents.

Astle, who said he sold his Harley Davidson a while back, told a Senate committee last month: “Personally, when I rode clear across the northwest from Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota, I had nothing on my head but a yellow rag, because it made me look really cool.”