Gov. Martin O'Malley filled a Carroll County school board seat yesterday that was recently left vacant by a member who acknowledged using a racial slur.
Virginia Harrison, chairwoman of the county's Human Relations Commission, will serve out the term of Jeffrey L. Morse, who resigned a couple of weeks ago. Morse was appointed last year by the governor to fill Thomas Hiltz's seat.
"I think it'll be exciting," Harrison said of her new role. The Sykesville resident, who was also recommended as a potential candidate for Hiltz's spot, said she had expressed interest in the position because she thought "it was a great opportunity."
Her appointment comes two weeks after Morse resigned. He stepped down after a board meeting last month, during which several residents expressed their concern and frustration upon finding out that he had used a racial slur to describe some dark rock at a school construction site. Morse had said he was quoting a term that contractors in the area around Littlestown, Pa., not far from where he lives, used.
Board President Cynthia L. Foley, whose announcement during yesterday's regular board meeting was met with applause, said the panel was "very pleased" with the governor's choice.
Superintendent Charles I. Ecker echoed that sentiment, saying he looked forward to having her.
"I think she will add a lot," Ecker said.
Word of the governor's choice came about an hour after Foley read a statement that mentioned recent incidents involving "inappropriate" language and actions. Early Tuesday morning, spray-painted graffiti with racial slurs and gang symbols was found at Westminster High, school officials said.
"Board members have not and will not condone or defend such actions," Foley said. "Respect, racial harmony and equity must be evident in our schools and community. ... It is the board's firm belief that these unfortunate comments and actions can and should be used as a catalyst for change."
"There is a continuing need for better race relations in our community," she added.
Jean Lewis, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she was excited about Harrison's appointment. Lewis said she had expressed her support for Harrison to the governor's office -- and hopes to campaign to get her on the ballot for board elections this fall, as a write-in candidate.
"Virginia Harrison is an excellent lady, and ... her heart is for the children," said Lewis, adding that she felt the board "needed more diversity."
Having a person of color on the board will help "give the community a sense that the board is working in their behalf," Lewis said.