Attorney Dyer plans to run for school board

Critic of panel says he is aiming for openness

`He's calling my bluff'

Lawyer has filed suit over meeting practices

Howard County

December 03, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Allen Dyer, an Ellicott City attorney best known for bringing lawsuits against the Howard County Board of Education, announced yesterday he will run for one of two open school board seats next year.

"The one thing I'm zeroed in on as far as being a Board of Education member is to bring that operation more into the open," said Dyer, a strong proponent of open government and a critic of the school board's meeting practices.

The news came as a shock to Sandra H. French, the school board chairman, who had said she would run for re-election if Dyer threw his hat into the ring, just to keep him out.

"He's calling my bluff," French said, adding that she intended her comment about running again to be a joke. "For me to run, it would require some serious discussion with my family, and I have not done that."

But French, who has served on the board since 1992, did not discount the chance that she might seek another four-year term. "I don't know, I really don't know," she said.

James P. O'Donnell, an appointed member whose term is also up next year, has also declined to say whether he will run.

Dyer and his campaign manager, Melody Higgins, ran for the office in 2000, along with 16 others. During the primary, Dyer was 15th, with 2,099 votes. Higgins -- who is suing the board in Howard Circuit Court over alleged open-meetings violations with Dyer as her lawyer -- was ninth with 4,279 votes.

"I think it's time for some fresh air on the Board of Education -- new perspectives, new ideas and openness," Higgins said. Dyer "will be a good school board member because he'll meet out in the open, and none of us out in the county will have to worry about closed-door meetings held inappropriately."

The school board has been the focus of public and media scrutiny since Dyer filed a civil suit against members three years ago, accusing them of holding illegally closed meetings and taking actions beyond their authority -- charges the board has steadfastly denied. The suit was dismissed in August by Circuit Judge James B. Dudley, who said Dyer did not have the proper legal standing to sue. Dyer is appealing the decision.

French said the Board of Education would not be able to operate if Dyer were a member because "the whole concept of what a board is about is being a team and of working together to build consensus." She said she didn't think that was in Dyer's makeup.

But the father of two believes otherwise.

"I think that there would be a period of adjustment, which I don't think would last very long, just until the other board members came to realize that they could operate in the open and that it really is not a disadvantage," said Dyer, who added that he wants to run in large part to put the expertise he has gained suing the board to good use.

"I think that would be a good way to get added value from what I've already done," he said.

Several others have announced their intentions to run for the school board, including Northfield Elementary School PTA Vice President Robert Ballinger and former teacher and County Council candidate Mary Kay Sigaty. Diane Mikulis, who has been a western Howard County neighborhood writer for The Sun, also plans to run. Her last column in The Sun will appear tomorrow.

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