House amends bill that would require Senate OK of school board appointees

Public nominating convention is suggested for Baltimore Co.

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April 02, 2005|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

The House of Delegates has amended a bill to require state Senate confirmation of gubernatorial appointments to the Baltimore County school board, instead requiring the revival of a public nominating convention - making it far less likely that the legislation will reach the governor's desk.

In light of the development, Sen. Delores G. Kelley said yesterday that she will introduce a bill next year calling for an elected school board in Baltimore County if the bill requiring Senate confirmation does not pass in its original form. Kelley, a Democrat, and other lawmakers introduced the bill because they were dissatisfied with the four appointments Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. made to the school board last summer.

"We didn't get top of the line," said Kelley of the appointees, adding that she wants the public to have a voice in the appointment process.

Those who supported the amended bill in the House, which passed it 120-16, say the revival of the nominating convention would do just that. Under the nominating convention system, the public selects three candidates for each open board seat and submits their names to the governor, who picks one of them.

But Kelley said the nominating convention, used for many years, was flawed. People had to pay $10 to participate, which Kelley said made the convention inaccessible to the poor. In addition, she said, the convention failed to produce a diverse pool of candidates. Governors sometimes ignored the convention's recommendations, instead appointing minority candidates.

In the House, opposition to Kelley's bill was led by Republican delegates including Patrick L. McDonough and A. Wade Kach, who both employ one of the new school board members, Frances A.S. Harris, as a part-time legislative aide.

Kelley said the two delegates have a conflict of interest and should not have voted on the bill - a notion they have called preposterous.

Kelley also accused Harris of letting McDonough and Kach in on confidential school board business. "They would like to protect that kind of arrangement," she said.

Harris said in response, "I can't imagine what she's talking about."

McDonough has dubbed Kelley's bill, which passed the Senate in late February, "the anaconda" and "the supersnake getting ready to devour the children of Baltimore County."

"Some senators are having a hissy fit because they've lost their power of patronage," he said in an interview last week.

The bill will be sent back to the House Ways and Means and Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committees to reconcile the differences in the versions passed.

The majority of Maryland's 24 school districts have elected boards of education.

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