Retired detective named Arundel school board chief

Move signals `new day,' panel's members say

Anne Arundel

July 11, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

In a surprise move, the county school board named retired homicide detective Mike McNelly president yesterday and began what board members called a "new day" in Anne Arundel County education.

The board welcomed its new superintendent, Eric J. Smith, and quickly made changes in both the substance and tone of its work. The meeting ended two hours early, and brevity and fiscal accountability were the order of the day.

"We are entering into a new phase for Anne Arundel County schools," said McNelly, 56, a Dunkirk resident and seven-year board member. "We have four new board members, a new superintendent and a renewed dedication to make Anne Arundel schools not only the best ... in the state, but hopefully in the nation."

A Glen Burnie High School graduate and Navy veteran, McNelly retired from the county Police Department in 1995. He is executive director of the Coalition for Fair Contracting Inc., in Camp Spring. The nonprofit group monitors Washington-area construction sites for labor law violations.

McNelly replaces Carlesa Finney, who has served three years as president and wanted to hold onto the job until next summer, when her term on the board expires. Instead, she was named vice president yesterday.

Finney said in an interview that when it became clear McNelly had the support of fellow members, she was happy to be a "team player" and step aside.

"This is a new day," Finney said during the meeting, "and we have a strong foundation to work on behalf of our children." She then turned to the new superintendent and said, "We believe we are giving you a system that is ready for you to take us - zoom us - into the 21st century."

The new board members are Edward Carey, 40, of Brooklyn Park; Eugene Peterson, 55, of Laurel; Konrad M. Wayson, 41, of Harwood; and student member Ashley Nathanson, 17, a senior at Arundel High School.

Yesterday was also Smith's first board meeting, and he already is making his presence felt.

Smith has told his staff that their presentations to the board will be limited to eight minutes; not long ago, presentations were sometimes elaborate affairs that lasted up to an hour. He has also said he wants memos limited to one page.

"Eight minutes is a long presentation," Smith said after yesterday's meeting. "It's not only the importance of the board members' time, but the staff's time and the public's time. It's a matter of respect."

Smith also is moving quickly to reduce the costs of school construction.

Eyebrows were raised among county officials this spring when the cost of new elementary schools each approached $20 million. When update reports on two of those schools came before the board yesterday, there was plenty of talk about "cost-saving" from staff and architects that had not been heard before - at least not in public.

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