School board member faces allegations of ethical violations

Howard official denies any quid pro quo, faces second inquiry about document leaks

March 10, 2011|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

The Howard County Board of Education has called for a second ethics investigation of member Allen Dyer, in the wake of accusations that he improperly attempted to persuade the student representative on the board to vote for him as chairman.

While those accusations are being vetted by the school board's ethics panel, the board decided Thursday to request a further inquiry into whether he wrongly leaked information about those allegations.

In December, former board members Patricia Gordon and Larry Cohen filed complaints with the school ethics committee against Dyer, on behalf of student board member Alexis Adams. They alleged that he offered to support full voting rights and a scholarship for student board members, in exchange for Adams' support in his bid for chairman.

Dyer said that he has always supported full voting rights and scholarship for student members of the board, so his conversations with Adams were not quid pro quo.

"My interest … was to bring her up to speed on where I stood with respect to support for the student board member in providing full voting rights for the student board member and supporting the scholarship," Dyer said.

The ethics committee held a hearing on Gordon and Cohen's complaints last week, and information about the complaints ended up in a blog called, "Tales of Two Cities," which covers news in Ellicott City and Columbia. The blog also said that Dyer's attorney sought to have the ethics complaints dismissed.

Dyer then posted information from the "Tales of Two Cities" blog entry onto "Howard Public Ed," an online discussion forum about the local school system. His post stated that since contents about the complaints had been made public he would talk with his attorney, Harold H. Burns Jr., to see whether he was legally free from confidentiality restrictions. Later that day Dyer posted a letter from the attorney stating that he had instructed Dyer to feel free to make public information regarding the complaints.

Dyer posted copies of documents pertaining to the complaint on Howard Public Ed.

Other board members said they were limited in what they could discuss about the matter. When contacted Thursday, former member Gordon said, "As you know the proceedings are not supposed to be discussed, so at this time I am not at liberty to discuss them."

She added, however, that she was told that a decision could be rendered at any time.

Board member Janet Siddiqui was ultimately elected board chairwoman. In Howard County, student board members can vote for the board chair.

Dyer said that previously board members voted as a block against him on many issues, but with the addition of newly elected members Cindy Vaillancourt and Brian Meshkin he felt that there would be times when they would vote in favor of his positions. With full voting rights for the student board member, Dyer said, he envisioned a 4-4 deadlock that would mean that no action would be taken unless a member from either side broke rank.

"Previous to the last election the only board member who would ever vote with me on an issue was the student board member, Josh Manley," Dyer said. "Coming from that background, I wanted to talk to Alexis to try to explain that Josh had supported me in the past and I supported Josh in the past on issues, and one issue that I supported Josh was the full voting rights and a scholarship for the student board member."

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