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Clarifications Needed to Board Conduct Policy to Avoid Undermining Democratic Process

On February 5, 2020 Anne Arundel County Board of Education District 6 candidate Joanna Bache Tobin presented the following testimony asking for clarifications to the draft Board Conduct Policy. As written, the draft raises concerns on limiting board member participation in debate on issues for which they have advocated as a private citizen or candidate.

President Corkadell, Vice President Ellis, Dr. Arlotto, and members of the Board,

My name is Joanna Bache Tobin and I come before you as a parent, a voter, and a candidate for the Board of Education in District 6. Thank you for presenting an initial draft of this Board Conduct Policy that is being given a first public reading today. As a former professor of Political Theory, and having led seminars on leadership for over a dozen years, I consider a clear statement of ethics and expectations of ethical behavior to lie at the heart of good governance at every level of government.

Today I am here to ask for clarification on some of the language used in this proposed policy. Specifically, I wish to inquire about the use of the word “advocating” as it is used in Section C.3, which states that Board members will seek an advisory opinion from the Board Ethics Panel regarding a potential conflict of interest, including “advocating on behalf of... matters before the Board or matters that have the potential of coming before the Board.

If addressing the issue of advocacy in this draft policy is intended to convey a concern with regard to receiving compensation from a group or organization that is advocating for a certain policy or budget item, I believe it is redundant because that concern is referenced clearly in Sections C. 1, subsection d.1 and C. 2, subsections d and I.

If the reference to advocacy is intended to suggest that Board members must seek an advisory opinion, and, therefore, possibly not participate in any decision around an issue for which they have advocated as a private citizen or as a candidate, it raises significant concerns about undermining the democratic process.

The change from an appointed to an elected Board of Education, voted in by Anne Arundel County citizens in 2016, reflects a need and a desire on the part of voters to have Board members who will speak for their constituents in the various districts, and whom voters may hold accountable. If Board members are prevented from participating in decisions on issues for which they have previously advocated, that will undo precisely the change that voters demanded in 2016.

It is also important to note that it is only by holding Board members accountable that voters have the opportunity to hold the Superintendent and his staff accountable. That chain of accountability is critical to a sound public education system.

I ask that the Board clarify the language in this policy, and provide a public statement regarding the intent of this particular portion of the policy.

Thank you.

Joanna Bache Tobin


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