If I thought we’d have at least a brief respite from political brouhaha after the election, I was wrong. Almost as soon as the votes were tallied, there was a new topic for local conversation and controversy.
Howard County lawmakers Clarence Lam and Courtney Watson propose appointing, instead of electing, two school board members, Ethan Ehrenhaft, Baltimore Sun
And it’s not just two members that would be involved.
The proposed legislation would allow the county executive to appoint two members, based on recommendations from the state delegation, beginning in 2024. Three members elected by senatorial districts in 2024 and two at-large members elected in 2026 would make up the remainder of the reconfigured board.
I found myself having a rather odd reaction to this announcement. Despite not being one hundred percent happy with the present system for electing board members, seeing state legislators propose such sweeping changes got my back up. It’s human nature, I suppose.
I was one of the people who pushed for a change in how we elect BOE members. This was when all BOE seats were “at large” and, election after election, the most successful candidates were from the same affluent areas of the county. It takes money to run a county-wide race. I was not alone in hoping that electing BOE members by district would promote more diversity on the board, as well as better representation from less affluent parts of the county.
And I do think those changes have made some improvements in those specific areas. But - - and we were warned this could happen - - there have been some accompanying side effects that have been concerning. Board member elected from a particular area are particularly devoted to that area. It is sometimes difficult for them to balance that loyalty with commitment to the county as a whole, or to areas with differing needs and/or challenges.
In short, there have been moments since this change that I have winced and said, “Yes, I know I advocated for this, but I didn't know it would turn out like this.”
But when I read the proposal from Lam and Watson, I found myself liking what we have now a whole lot more. I don’t think it is broken enough to warrant this kind of intervention. This is not a small thing that is being suggested here. I’ll continue to study the proposal, but my gut feeling is that any concerns the delegation has could surely be met without diluting the power of local voters.
Here comes the controversy. The response to this proposal on social media hasn’t been merely disagreement. It seems we have made the leap from a difference of opinion to making accusations of ill intent. It didn’t take long. One well-known local Facebook group is running a poll of its readers to determine “who is the real influence behind this proposal?”
Choices include the local Democratic Party, the County Executive, Howard Hughes Corporation/assorted developers and lobbyists - - you get the picture. So far no one responding to the aforementioned poll believes that Lam and Watson thought it up themselves. Over on Twitter, someone has attributed this proposal to the influence of HCEA, known more colloquially as the teachers’ union.
Oh, brother. The blamers are hard at work right now.
In addition, our local demanders-in-chief have decided to assign ill intent to any decision that they don’t agree with. Eveything is crooked, or selfish, or mean-spirited, or a conspiracy. There’s very little room simply to say, “we are going through difficult times right now and I’m sad and disappointed.” The loudest voices are the blamers. “Again With the Blamers” Village Green/Town² 7/05/2020
These two frames from Calvin and Hobbes feel relevant.
It seems a lot of folks are sure they know the “real motivation” behind this proposal. They’re quick with the easy answers. The truth is undoubtedly more complicated. Clarence Lam and Courtney Watson are smart, thoughtful, and effective public servants. It is possible to believe that and still not like this bill. It is possible to oppose this bill without calling these people names and lobbing accusations of malfeasance in their direction.
How’s this for a completely unserious theory? I made it up purely for my own amusement: Lam and Watson were afraid that no one would come to the public hearing on December 14th. Devastated by thoughts of low turn-out, they created a proposal that was sure to get people out of their homes and into the seats in the Banneker Room in the George Howard Building.
If you’re one of those people, here’s what you need to know:
The Howard County delegation will hold a public hearing Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. in the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building to solicit public feedback on proposed local legislation. Registration to testify in person will be 6:20 p.m. to 6:50 p.m. outside the Banneker Room.
The hearing will be livestreamed and written testimony can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.