Bill to ensure local say in school board selections is vetoed

June 12, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer recently vetoed legislation that would have ensured local residents a say in appointments to the Harford County school board.

The Permanent Nominating Caucus, which recommends school board candidates to the governor, had asked the General Assembly to give the caucus legal standing, said Mark Wolkow, a member of the caucus board.

For 33 years, the nonpartisan caucus has voted on school board members, sending its first and second choices to the governor. Only four times in 33 years, including last year, has a governor appointed the second choice.

But the governor can appoint anyone he chooses. That is what worries Mr. Wolkow.

He said the bill, jointly drafted by Democratic Sen. Habern W. Freeman Jr. and Sen. William H. Amoss, would have forced the governor to choose someone submitted by the caucus, so that if the panel's choices were rejected, the caucus would be able to submit additional names until one met with the governor's approval.

The vetoed legislation also would have made the caucus a legal entity and made its bylaws binding.

"This was a preventive measure on the chance that, someday in the future, we would have a governor who would want someone on the board who was not the will of the people," Mr. Wolkow said.

The nonpartisan caucus asks candidates for resumes and to answer some questions in writing. The information is made public.

The caucus, made up of PTAs, churches and other civic groups, tightened its bylaws this year. Now, two delegates or two alternates from each member organization must submit their names in advance and attend a question and answer session with candidates before they can vote. Delegates or alternates must show two forms of picture identification before they receive a ballot.

In addition, any group that registers as a caucus member must have a tax-exempt number. Mr. Wolkow said that requirement was put into the bylaws to stop splinter groups from an organization, such as subcommittees of a PTA, from sending multiple delegates to the caucus.

Nancy Jacobs, former state representative of the conservative Concerned Women for America, said the caucus was trying to limit community participation by changing its bylaws.

"This is a control issue for the liberal bureaucrats, who think they are the only ones with the wisdom to know what's best for everyone else," she said.

Mrs. Jacobs, who is running for the House of Delegates in District 34, said the caucus' changes forced groups to "jump through hoops" before they could become members.

"I personally think they are trying to limit participation by churches and community groups that don't buy into their agenda," she said.

Mr. Wolkow denied those accusations.

In last year's selection, the governor chose the second-place candidate, incumbent Anne D. Sterling, over H. Everett Smith. Mr. Smith, an insurance salesman and former school teacher who had a conservative platform, defeated Mrs. Sterling, 94-85, in the caucus vote.

The caucus was bombarded with complaints by the county teachers union and others who said conservative groups cheated to make sure Mr. Smith won. The caucus did not find any evidence of wrongdoing.

This year's vote for the Havre de Grace seat went smoothly, Mr. Wolkow said.

Richard W. Daub Jr. 32, a control technician at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant and president of the Havre de Grace Elementary PTA, received 54 votes and was approved by the governor. The other candidate, Dr. Edna E. Hirsch, 39, a dentist, received 28 votes.

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