Faction against PTA leader

Four activists seek to oust Balto. Co. president over allegations of `bullying' and broken rules

he dismisses their complaints as `mostly politics'

November 03, 2005|By LIZ F. KAY | LIZ F. KAY,SUN REPORTER

.. A small group of activists is trying to have the head of the PTA Council of Baltimore County removed from his position, alleging that he has failed to follow bylaws and has behaved in a "bullying" fashion -- accusations that he dismisses as "politics."

The four activists who started that effort, all former or current members of Baltimore County's PTA Council, are also rallying opposition to Michael C. Franklin's bid to become president-elect of the Maryland PTA.

They say Franklin has repeatedly intimidated fellow volunteers and that he has not followed the group's rules -- for example, failing to order a mandated financial audit. They plan to call for a vote on whether Franklin should be removed at the county PTA Council's executive board meeting tonight.

Franklin, who is in his fourth year as president of the county PTA Council, denied virtually all of the allegations against him, allowing only that he did not appoint a committee to conduct an audit for the last fiscal year. But on that point, he added that others on the organization's executive board, including some of his critics, could have initiated the audit process.

"I think it's mostly politics," Franklin said of the complaints.

He is running unopposed for the state position. If elected this month by school PTA delegates, Franklin would serve two years as president-elect and then become president.

Mary Jo Neil, first vice president of the Maryland PTA, said the state organization was working with Franklin and urging him to "address the concerns." "We've taken a look at it like it's a negative campaign," she added.

Potentially at stake is the leadership of an organization that provides training and support for parent groups at nearly 160 Baltimore County schools, with about 48,000 members, and of the state organization, which counts more than 230,000 members.

As head of the county PTA group since 2002, Franklin, 46, a printing press operator from Randallstown, has become known for his frank criticism of the school system. In 2003, he took the school board to task for violating the state's open meetings law, and he has questioned efforts to address the minority achievement gap.

Last month, Jan Thomas, a county PTA Council committee chairwoman, submitted her resignation because, she said, Franklin yelled at Mary Pat Kahle, a member of the PTA Council's nominating committee, after an executive board meeting. Franklin denies that claim.

"I no longer wanted to help give a public face and credence to a presidency which I didn't believe in," Thomas said.

She then sent a resignation letter to executive board members detailing what she described as breaches of council bylaws. It also lists allegations of verbally abusive behavior by Franklin toward two other PTA members -- which Franklin denies.

Thomas and three other women later formed the Committee for Responsible PTA Leadership and sent a letter describing their concerns to PTA groups at Baltimore County schools and PTA councils around the state. It also called for them not to approve Franklin as president-elect of Maryland PTA.

"Mr. Franklin is not a leader. He is abusive and bullying in his behavior towards PTA members," the letter states.

Last week, two people said county police detectives asked them outside a school board meeting whether Franklin had threatened them; both said he hadn't. No one was charged with a crime, and Franklin said police never talked to him.

Regarding the bylaws, Thomas said, the PTA neither moved to hold an anniversary gala in October nor to cancel the October general membership meeting in favor of the gala.

Franklin counters that the calendar approved by the council's board included both the gala and two leadership workshops rather than a general meeting.

Marilyn K. Ryan, a longtime PTA Council board member who leads its bylaws and standing rules committee, said everyone in the group shoulders blame for not remembering to conduct the audit.

"Everyone sitting on that board is responsible for what that board does," Ryan said.

Kahle called it "a cop-out" to say all board members are culpable, adding, "The person at the top is ... ultimately responsible."

Ryan said an audit committee would be named tonight.liz.kay@baltsun.com

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