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Op-Ed: Tail Wagging the Dog? BCPS Shredgate Issues Still Exist.

Opinion Section: Op-Ed

The nauseating, repulsive stench from the manure pile of facts will continue to gag those forced to breathe it until the Baltimore County Public School system fixes the obvious problems.

Beginning in the year 2018, The Baltimore Post, the Baltimore Sun, the C4 Radio Show, The Gunpowder Gazette, and Project Baltimore have reported on the untimely and far too-self-servingly-convenient destruction by the school system of documents required for an upcoming audit and for compliance with the Maryland State Archives, and unfulfilled public information requests.

To date, the only responses from the school system have been a brief public statement by the new superintendent linking details of some of the destruction activities, and an extensive school board public airing on Jan.7 of some of the past destruction events and recently implemented steps for improved record keeping and controls for documents.  And those responses occurred only after calls from the governor, the county executive, a former state senator, and two state delegates for outside investigations and/or lifting of the school system’s Soviet Union-like iron curtain of secrecy.

What has not been done is insulting to the taxpayers’ intelligence, paradoxical to proper management, an affront to common sense, and repugnant to the public’s expectations for improved school board supervision of its employees, after Verletta White’s public admission of failing to report her education-related outside income and position with the Education Research and Development Institute on her financial disclosure forms, that are designed for that purpose, because she said the forms were confusing; the Dallas Dance-led-boondoggle of questionably spent hundreds of millions of dollars for laptop computers without proper and adequate evidence of assuredly improved academic performance; his secret conflicts-of-interest-laden consulting contracts with the same companies he pushed the school board into doing business with; his unquestioned and non-required extensive outside-the-state travels; and his eventual perjury indictment, prosecution, conviction and jail sentence for filing false financial disclosure forms.

With that kind of appalling recent historical baggage one would think the school board would be unanimously forging ahead to improved supervision and transparency of what it and its employees are doing.  After watching what has been done and not done, voters and taxpayers should still be outraged, because at the Jan. 7 school board meeting there were/was:

1. No questions about who, how, when, and why the financial disclosure statements needed for the audit were destroyed;

2. No questions about who, how, when, and why different financial disclosure statements needed for the open public information requests were destroyed;

3. Cartoonish, failed Amateur Hour acting performances, statements, and questions by board member Ms. Pasteur;

4. Questionable competency of Ms. Pasteur if her performances were not a failed act;

5. No questions to Ms. Howie regarding the whistle-blower contentions that employee(s) pulled documents for destruction during a fall weekend when other employees were not around;

6. No decision to ask Governor Hogan or the state’s prosecutor’s office to provide protections requested by the whistle-blower before she/he will identify the additional information she/he holds regarding that alleged surreptitious document destruction;

7. No questions to Ms. Howie or Ms. Burnopp regarding needed safeguards or controls for documents scheduled for destruction – but must be scanned first to maintain the record — to ensure that they have been actually scanned, thus shutting the door for additional excused but unauthorized document destruction using the thinly veiled guise of “…somehow those pages did not get scanned;”

8. No announcement of job termination for the identified employees who were responsible for the destroyed but needed financial disclosure statements and the past inadequate controls for preventing untimely document destruction;

9. No announcement identifying and correcting the inherent conflicts of interest with the school system’s law office, managed by Ms. Howie, regarding that office’s past document destruction, the past and present arrangement of her maintaining the financial disclosure statements, and her being the gatekeeper for public information requests from reporters and citizens.

The last point is far too important not to provide additional information.  Without action by the school board forcing a change, this is the possible future scenario: A reporter suspects malfeasance by an employee and promptly requests appropriate documents — which might include financial disclosure statements — from Ms. Howie, the gatekeeper of public information requests and keeper of the signed financial disclosure forms.  And for whatever reason, she and/or her office’s employees do not want the reporter to see the statements, so they destroy the critical ones.

How likely is that to happen?  It has already happened.  What other evidence is needed?

As if that is not already improper and feckless management, the email trail or other communications of Ms. Howie is off-limits to reporters because of lawyer-client privilege, so a citizen’s request for a broader public picture of what takes place in that office is snubbed.

The time is long past due to bring this entire inexcusable, preposterous, insulting, asininity-laden nonsense to an end that guarantees it will never happen again.

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