School board rifts shoved Twombly out Self-declared maverick clashed often over costs, work quality

'A lot of real concerns'

Central office staff, board say he meddled

teachers laud his effort

July 14, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Disputes over cost overruns and unfinished projects drove a wedge between former school board member Thomas R. Twombly, his colleagues and school officials, and helped lead to his resignation June 19.

Twombly has maintained his silence since his two-word letter of resignation to state School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, but critics and supporters of Twombly say he felt increasingly isolated by those who run the Anne Arundel school system.

In interviews last week with board members and school administrators, a picture emerges of a turbulent two years of infighting, uneasy truces and a shaky alliance that led to Twombly's resignation. One thing is clear: Forcing Twombly out was one of the only things the other seven board members and Superintendent Carol S. Parham agreed on in recent months.

The Pasadena resident viewed himself as a maverick, and he spent most of his six years on the board trying to shrink the school administration on Riva Road, complaining that employees had to be held more accountable for their work.

Although he privately pushed the board to hire Parham in 1994, the two were increasingly at odds. She fumed about his meddling to staff and to those outside the school system.

At board meetings, Twombly's statements on subjects, from what new performance reviews should include to redistricting, often were met with a strained silence from other board members. They took some of their arguments behind closed doors, but angry voices could frequently be heard by those waiting outside their meeting room.

His critics on the board felt Twombly never got past the loss of the power he had as president in 1993-94 and that his bursts of anger were intimidating and offensive.

But his stormy relationship with the upper levels of management did not always extend to the rank-and-file. Some employees -- especially teachers -- felt they had an ally in Twombly.

"I know he had a lot of real concerns about the central office. I don't think he had all the tact, maybe, in the way he approached people. But I always found I could talk to him," said a teacher

who asked not to be identified.

Quietly, Twombly's colleagues and board staff complained to each other that he was abusive to them, making excessive demands and berating them for not having information ready for him. Some central office employees found his constant questioning meddlesome, and senior administrators tried to keep abreast of what information Twombly was seeking. He also spent time at the Fort Smallwood operations and maintenance facility, irking still others.

Twombly was unhappy, too, with what he saw as the school system's refusal to deal with its problems. In April, he tried to take his complaints to Grasmick, but she refused to take his calls, Twombly said.

That same month, he was furious that information he and other members of the board sought from the staff for potential redistricting in Pasadena came at the 11th hour. He complained that the staff dragged its feet, and that the board backed away from making a decision.

Meanwhile, his critics organized. In May, their complaints found a sympathetic ear -- Arundel school board President Joseph H. Foster, who on May 21 wrote a four-page letter to Grasmick, outlining the problems, according to state Department of Education records.

Grasmick, who has the power to remove school board members for misconduct in office, incompetency, neglect or immorality, received a one-page letter from Twombly dated May 27.

A month later, Grasmick backed Foster and Parham and made it clear she wanted Twombly off the school board, according to sources who have seen the five-page letter dated June 19. Twombly responded the same day: "I resign," his letter said.

State and county school officials have declined to release the letters, calling them "personnel records." The Sun is legally challenging the decision on the grounds that Twombly was an unpaid public official who cannot have personnel records.

Pub date: 7/14/96

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