Grand jury inquiry in Carroll extended

School panel ignored concerns of residents, state's attorney says

November 03, 1999|By John Murphy and David L. Greene | John Murphy and David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

Scolding Carroll County school board members as "arrogant" and "indifferent," State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes revealed yesterday that the grand jury investigation into the school system has been extended indefinitely.

In a Sept. 7 order by Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. -- made public yesterday -- the 23-member panel was allowed to continue its investigation of the school system. The jury, impaneled in May, had been scheduled to end its six-month term Sunday.

The grand jury, whose members started the inquiry, called "overwhelmingly" to continue their work, Barnes said. Dozens of pleas to move ahead with the investigation have also come from county residents who are upset with the school board's performance, Barnes said.

Barnes said he is frustrated with the school board's failure to address the issues before it, including school construction projects that have led to lawsuits and anonymous complaints about poor morale among school employees.

School officials have struggled with several construction projects in recent years, including Cranberry Station Elementary School, which opened this year more than $1 million over budget, and Francis Scott Key High School, where a sewage treatment plant was built without proper state permits and a neighbor's driveway was accidentally destroyed.

"It is the mandated responsibility of an elected school board to serve at the pleasure of the public through the electoral process. It is also their duty to be the liaison to the citizens of the county," Barnes said in an interview yesterday morning.

"From what I've seen, their response to anyone's inquiry is one of indifference and arrogance. I don't think they are fulfilling responsibilities to the public and citizens of Carroll County."

School Board President Gary W. Bauer dismissed Barnes' attack and the grand jury investigation.

"I think this is all political. I have no idea who is behind Jerry," he said. "Whoever sits on the grand jury might have political motives. That's my opinion."

Bauer defended the board's performance, saying it has always been responsive to the concerns of the public, noting that the board holds monthly community meetings.

"Anybody can say anything. We go around the room and say, `Give us your concerns,' " he said.

School board member Susan W. Krebs, who has appeared once to testify before the grand jury, applauded the extension of the inquiry, but added that jurors were doing a job the school board should have done itself.

Saying she agreed with Barnes' analysis of her colleagues, Krebs criticized the board for failing to discuss or inquire about school construction problems. "They have literally ignored these problems and think there is nothing there. Ignoring all this has made it even bigger," she said. Barnes singled out Krebs as the one board member who is performing her duties as an elected official.

The board's other members -- Bauer, C. Scott Stone, Joseph D. Mish Jr. and Ann M. Ballard -- have failed to meet that standard, Barnes said.

"For people who envision themselves as the intellectual elite, thus far, in my opinion, they haven't demonstrated one ounce of common sense," Barnes said. "If they did face up to their responsibilities I wouldn't have to be involved in this as state's attorney; nor would a grand jury," he said.

Ballard, reached yesterday in Dallas, said she did not wish to comment until she saw a copy of the unsealed court document extending the grand jury term.

Superintendent William H. Hyde reiterated his offer to testify.

"We are an enthusiastic supporter of the grand jury process, and we would welcome the opportunity to appear," he said in a prepared statement read by Carey Gaddis, school spokeswoman. Efforts to reach board members Mish and Stone were not successful.

"There has been so much of an outcry in the public that I was drawn into this by existing legal mechanisms," he said. "Do I want to be involved in this? No. This is a huge diversion," he said.

A grand jury typically looks into criminal activity and is responsible for handing up indictments. But the panel, if its members choose, also has the authority to explore other community issues -- including possible abuses by public officials.

In recent years, grand juries in Maryland have studied school crime and the condition of detention centers. In these civic investigations, the grand jury has the power to issue criminal indictments, issue a report or take no action.

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