Lots of things to talk about today.
What a week it's been here in the land of milk and honey! For starters, it was named.... The Land of Milk and Honey! Kinda. Money Magazine named Columbia as the #1 small city (population between 50,000 and 300,000) in the whole US of A! And you can see a nifto video about it (starring Howard County's own Calvin Ball and his family) here.
This has been a distinction long coveted by powers that be in the HoCo, especially since the combo of Ellicott City and Columbia had been ranked in the top 5 of this poll a few times now. Not sure why this still isn't an Ellicott City/Columbia combo, but, what they hey? I consider it a win for Howard County as a whole.
But, to those who have read the article or viewed the video, and are doing their research on Columbia and Howard County, Maryland, what exactly are they seeing? Uhhhh, not exactly us at our best.
The almanac tells me that last Thursday was not the night of a full moon, but maybe it should've been. Because some truly inexplicable, bizarre, downright mean and hateful things happened here on that day. One was, of course, the publication of the Howard County Office on Human Rights report regarding the Sheriff's Office. There's been plenty written on that topic over the past couple days.
A few things I want to pass along that are new on this story. One, I want to thank the people who showed their support for this on social media, and especially, the 40-50 awesome people who showed up Friday night. There's an article and video about it here. You may recognize some of the people on the video and quoted in the article.
Second, there is another protest being planned at the Circuit Court Building, 6360 Court Ave. in Ellicott City. It's scheduled for Monday, September 26 from 11:30am to 1:30pm.
Third, some additional personal perspective and comment. I don't have any reason to believe at all that the allegations cited in the OHR report are untrue. Some of the people making the allegations in the report are personally known to me and I have no reason to believe they would not be truthful in what they offered to this report.
All that said, while I hope Sheriff Fitzgerald resigns over this, I don't expect that he will. I would expect him to challenge the report and argue for his own due process. I'm not saying it's a proper thing for him to do that, but he does have the right to do it. Because, sometimes, people behave illogically and with no sense. After all, isn't such behavior what led him to utter these ridiculous statements anyway?
And, speaking of ridiculous statements. I wonder what Christine O'Connor wondered to herself Thursday afternoon. Was she afraid that perhaps the Sheriff's Office had taken the mantle as the biggest whack-job local agency in the State of Maryland, and that she needed to do something to take back the belt? So, she called her friend and former Board of Education running mate, Mike "Monopoly Man Mustache" Smith, and said, "Bring me something." I wonder if that happened?
Because if so, it certainly succeeded. Watching Thursday evening's Board of Education meeting (I was actually going to attend, but was waiting for an appointment at home, which never happened) I was disgusted beyond words. Which is saying something.
I guess I could post the video, but I won't. I'm just going to paraphrase what happened. Smith used the public forum time at the BOE meeting to make a personally directed statement and series of accusations and suppositions against BOE member Cindy Vaillaincourt. Specifically, that Ms. Vaillaincourt was currently a party in a disability lawsuit, that she has been on disability insurance benefits for sometime, that since, by his observation, Ms. Vaillaincourt has no physical disability, then her disability must be mental, and if she is, indeed, mentally disabled, then how could be judged to be in a position of responsibility over Howard County's children?
This is insulting and simply wrong on so many levels, I'll try to capture them all. But not sure I'm going to.
First, Smith's comments were totally and completely out of order. They had nothing to do with any current or potential business before the BOE, and they conveyed no information about public education in Howard County. This was an open and brazen revealing of a board member's personal business. And, while lawsuits are matters of public record, they certainly contain private information, so revealing this information in a public setting is simply unethical.
And to make the whole thing smell even more fishy, Ms. Vaillaincourt offered on social media that in the lawsuit, she is only identified by initials. They only people who know that she's involved in name, besides family, are the members of the BOE and the Superintendent.
So second. Smith's comments went for over four and a half minutes-- he was allowed three.
These two things add up to the third. I conclude that BOE Chair O'Connor approved of the reveal of this information, and used her privilege as Chair to allow it to be aired. This is a clear abuse of power and authority and is a breach of the trust given to her as Chair. She should face sanction at the next BOE meeting, including censure and up to and including removal as Chair. Oh, Christine-- read your Robert's Rules of Order before the next meeting on October 4th.
Fourth-- I guess Janet Siddiqui kept silent on the entire issue because she only cares about "the whole child", not "the whole adult". Because she didn't say anything the entire time. Meanwhile, the only true education professional on the BOE, Bess Altwerger, literally screamed for the Chair to do something about this inappropriate behavior. Which, of course, she never did.
As an aside-- ahh, let's make it number five-- isn't there counsel in the room at these BOE meetings? Why didn't the Chair get legal advice (absent any parliamentary authority or, apparently, common sense) to stop Smith's comments?
And staff inaction leads me to number six-- Dr. Foose. So I attended a BOE candidates' forum a couple weeks ago at the Columbia Democratic Club. It was very gentile, very proper among the five candidates for the BOE. Janet Siddiqui's husband, protector of high gas prices in Columbia Nayab Siddiqui, was there to complain about the candidates. I'm really, not even sure why Janet is on the ballot. In fact, is she on the ballot this year? Is she qualified to stand for office? I don't know.
Anyway, I think it's time for these five candidates-- and maybe they have talked about this-- to get real in these forums about the subject of Dr. Foose. Clear that she is at the center of many, many problems in the HCPSS and as they pertain to the BOE. I want to know what the candidates think about removing Foose?
Now, there's two sides to this. Her performance review is up in January, I do believe. And the BOE that performs her review will not be the BOE that gave her her nice shiny new contract with the nice severance package. The straightforward thing would be for the new Board to tell Foose to take a hike, and tell Bev Davis to figure out how her severance package will be funded.
But, on the other hand, Foose could get legal over what she may see as an unjustified and uninformed personnel action, and attempt to sue the BOE and/or the county, in an effort to get big bucks and go out the door with a big bang. My sense is that she won't do this, as Foose still wants to be employed somewhere, and, let's face it, her current contract's severance package is really nice.
BOE candidates, speak on the future of the contract of the Superintendent! Don't just tell me, tell the county far and wide over these next six weeks!
How are y'all doing out there in Readerland? Good? Good, because in honor of Bruce Springsteen's 67th birthday, I'm going to keep on going!
You (and by you, I mean Scott Ewart, who I guess needs something to fill the time he's lost by not watching Peyton throw wobbly out passes and flap his arms on Sundays) want an update on the HCPSS Budget Review Committee, and by gum, I'm gonna give it to ya!
So we've had two more meetings since I last checked in on this. And if you want to, you can see the streaming of the meetings, and keep up on matters with the committee, at this page.
Our September 14 meeting featured HCPSS Chief Financial Office Bev Davis. She provided a capable summation of the HCPSS budget calendars and processes. I could only attend the portion of the meeting having to do with the operating budget (daytime meeting and I work) and from there, she painted a fair picture.
And I'm one who believes that a fair picture has gaps. And for me, a few gaps stand out. One, in the budget formation process, how to ideas for innovation bubble up from the field level, ie, the schools? That wasn't clear to me; I asked Ms. Davis about it, as you can see, and her answer didn't clear things up for me.
Second, these "fund balance" accounts. These seems to be the pots of money where the HCPSS stores their reserves. And they appear to be unlimited. I'm wondering, how much are in the fund balance accounts, all told? And, given that the BOE still thinks their budget was cut $50M by the County Executive and County Council, how do we know that the BOE won't try again to lay a $50M bill upon the county? Of course, then again, there will be a new BOE elected in November, one I imgaine will have a different financial philosophy.
Now to the meeting on September 21. This was, overall, a very useful and productive meeting, as the committee discussed it's work products and schedule for the year. For starters, the committee decided to study in more detail these portions of the recent HCPSS budgets: fixed charges, special education, legal fees, and staffing. And we prioritized the tasks that the committee was charged to perform in the committee's enabling legislation. The highest priorities were given to the review of the prior years' budgets, and to make recommendations on both process and product to the County Council for the consideration of the FY18 HCPSS Capital and Operating Budgets.
There will be two meetings in October so please keep up with the web page, and this space, for more information.
That's about it for this Springsteen concert-esque blog post. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and let's be careful out there.
#hcpss #ColumbiaMD #hocosheriff #hocoschools