School board caucus rules tightened nTC

March 13, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

Harford's Permanent Nominating Caucus, which recommends school board candidates to the governor, has tightened its membership requirements and voting procedures to eliminate undue influence by activist groups.

The next caucus election will take place May 19 for the Havre de Grace seat vacated by two-term member Percy Williams.

Three candidates registered before the March 3 deadline: Dr. Edna E. Hirsch, 39, a dentist; Richard Daub Jr., 32, a control technician for Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point plant and president of the Havre de Grace Elementary PTA; and the Rev. Franklin West, 60, pastor of St. James African Methodist Church.

The caucus is made up of churches, PTAs and civic organizations. Each organization may send two delegates to vote. They each get one vote.

The nonpartisan caucus, which has overseen the school board election process for 33 years, was heavily criticized over last year's election for the Bel Air school board seat.

The Harford teachers union, some PTA groups and other people in attendance on voting night alleged that some conservative groups cheated to ensure that candidate H. Everett Smith won.

The union said the caucus allowed the alleged cheating to take place because it did not ask for identification, so people voted for groups they did not represent.

Also, the caucus was accused of allowing conservative organizations to register under multiple names and, therefore, send more delegates.

Conservative groups, such as Concerned Women for America, denied any impropriety. And the caucus said it had no proof that any unethical conduct had taken place.

Mr. Smith, an insurance salesman and former school teacher, defeated incumbent Anne D. Sterling, 94-85. However, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who makes the school board appointments, named Mrs. Sterling to a second term.

It was the fourth time in 30 years that a governor did not appoint the person with the most caucus votes.

Mr. Smith said Friday that changing the way the caucus operates will not make for fairer elections.

"I had stellar credentials as a businessman, as a community volunteer and a strong educational background. That's why I won. But what happened last year proved that the only vote that really counts belongs to [County Executive] Eileen M. Rehrmann," he said.

Mrs. Rehrmann recommended to the governor that Mrs. Sterling be given a second term.

Mr. Smith said he fears that caucus rules are being changed -- and will continue to be changed -- to guarantee that the "right person" wins.

"There would have been no problem with the election last year -- and no changes to the caucus -- except the wrong person -- me -- won," Mr. Smith said.

David J. Petr, the new chairman of the caucus board of directors, said caucus bylaws have been tightened to eliminate controversy over future elections and not to exclude particular groups.

As before, nonprofit organizations that have no political affiliations can join the caucus.

These include churches, PTAs and other civic organizations. Each group may register two delegates and two alternates to vote, Mr. Petr said.

But this year the delegates, or their alternates, must provide two forms of identification before they will be given ballots.

Also, they must attend the question-and-answer session with the candidates April 7 to be eligible to vote May 19. Both events will be held at Southampton Middle School, 1200 Moores Mill Road, Bel Air, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

In the past, the session and voting took place on the same night.

"One of the biggest complaints we received was that there was not enough time to ask questions before the delegates had to vote," Mr. Petr said.

Organizations must answer a detailed questionnaire before they will be allowed to join the caucus. Mr. Petr said groups must be based in Harford County, have bylaws and have been in existence for at least one year.

He said this should eliminate any group of people from forming a temporary organization to vote for a particular candidate. The questionnaires, which will be randomly checked for verification, must be postmarked by March 27.

In the past, credentials were not checked because the caucus was small and everyone knew one another, Mr. Petr said.

"Six years ago there may have been 20 groups who sent delegates to vote. Last year we had over 100," he said.

Also, he said, each group will be asked to show its federal tax-exemption form, or apply for one, to prove its nonprofit status.

Mr. Petr said this will prevent any organization from registering under multiple names because only one federal tax-exemption notice is given to an organization.

For example, a church prayer group or a PTA committee could not apply to send its own delegates.

For applications, call Elva Mullin, caucus secretary, at (410) 638-0959.

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