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Email Records Show Baltimore County Government’s Past Influence on School Board and Appointments

Photo Credit: The Gunpowder Gazette

After state legislation, enacted in 2017, modified the future make-up of the Baltimore County School Board from 12 appointed members to a partially elected group of government officials, the Baltimore County School Board Nominating Commission would be created to open up an equitable process for selecting four to-be appointed members.

November 2018 marked the first election of seven of the school board members – one from each council district – to represent constituents in the areas, while an eighth member, a student, would continue to be elected by peers and later approved by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, along with the rest of the school board.

The four remaining at-large members would be selected through a nomination process by the nominating commission, which is distinct from the school board, and is comprised of individuals selected by a diversity of groups and committees in order to ensure a diversified school board. The late-Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz would select the commission’s chair.

The commission’s sole responsibility as an independent body is to field applications from those interested in serving on the school board and to send its recommendations to Hogan who selects from a list of names the commission provides.

After commission members were selected in 2017, at least one person interested in serving as an at-large school board member would be discussed by Baltimore County government employees for consideration by the nominating commission. But not without employees first weighing-in on the perceived fitness of her eligibility for the position.

It is not clear whether the entire nominating commission was made aware of a recommendation sent to Commission Chair Aaron Plymouth on Feb. 1, 2018, but at least some within the then-Kamenetz administration appeared to have opinions about the woman even being considered.

Emails, obtained by this reporter that year through a public information request, showed that former Baltimore County Public Schools’ Community and Government Relations Liaison Bob Barrett and then-Kamenetz Chief of Staff Don Mohler had something to say about a recommendation that had bubbled up to the school board nominating commission from the their offices.

A Jan. 31, 2018 email started off the recommendation. “This lady has been very vocal regarding Lansdowne High School, etc…” said Michelle Wilson in an email to Mohler and Arnold Jablon, then-director of Baltimore County’s Department of Permits, Inspections and Approvals. “I’d like to refer her to the nominating committee but there isn’t general contact information available. Suggestions?”

While it is not clear why the county’s former director of the permits department, which ordinarily would deal with building and construction concerns, would be involved in the selection of a Baltimore County School Board member, Jablon, nonetheless, wrote to Wilson and Mohler, “I suggest referral to Bob Barrett.”

From there, Barrett wrote to nominating commission chair, Aaron Plymouth, forwarding the email string to him in which the woman had been recommended to Plymouth and the commission for consideration on the school board.

But in a side note to Wilson, in which he carbon copied Mohler and Jablon, Barrett put in his two cents about the aspiring board member, stating on Feb 1, 2018 “Just an FYI, she also has filed an ethics complaint against the superintendent. ONLY AN F.Y.I.,” Barrett cautioned.

In a response to the woman’s recommendation for consideration – and not Barrett’s email about the ethics complaint – Mohler then weighed-in with his thoughts on the woman. “Problematic,” he said.

“Yep,” Barrett replied in response to Mohler.

The email string, below, has been redacted by this publication as a courtesy to the then-aspiring school board member who was not appointed.

Emails - rdac

Three years earlier, in 2015, when the school board was still fully appointed with handpicked members, Kamenetz’s Chief of Staff Don Moher also weighed-in with his reaction to the list of board members appointed by Gov. Hogan that year, stating, “Hogan totally blew up the school board….Outrageous Republican bomb throwers and reactionaries,” Mohler said.

It is not clear why the chief of staff for Baltimore County government would have concerns about the Board of Education for Baltimore County. But 2018 marked the first year that seven of its members would be chosen by residents living in the seven council districts, which resulted in a hybrid-elected board devoid of real estate development attorneys for the first time in no less than a decade.

Nonetheless, in reaction to the 2015 appointments, which had been recommended to Hogan for consideration by elected officials, the then-Kamenetz administration admitted to its ability to exert control over some of the school board members when Kamenetz’s government affairs director, Yolanda Winkler, said in an email to him, Mohler, and another county employee, “Effective Tomorrow BC school board members will be as listed below…We should be able to pull one of them when we need a vote…” Winkler said.

Mohler, who would later become interim county executive after County Executive Kamenetz passed away from cardiac arrest in May 2018, could not be reached for questions.

And Barrett, who was convicted the same year for tax crimes when he accepted cash bribes from real estate developers and undercover FBI agents for development deals involving Baltimore County Public Schools, could not be found for comment.

Mohler retired from Baltimore County government in 2018. But when he was still Kamenetz’s chief of staff, the 2015 email string, below, shows that Mohler weighed-in then too saying “Terrific.”

He would later be assured that the board member about which he expressed exuberance would be the easiest to “pull” when the county needed a vote.

2015 Emails - Baltimore County Government - School Board Selections
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