Board Vacancy Policy Discussed

SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County will consider new procedures for filling school board vacancies.

Last week, the Wicomico County Council held a work session on the procedure for filling a vacancy on the Wicomico County Board of Education.

“I looked at what could be done and what could be changed from what we are doing now in terms of filling a vacancy,” Council Attorney Bob Taylor said.

In the event of a vacancy, the Wicomico County Board of Education Nominating Commission seeks qualified applicants for appointment to the school board.

Within 60 days of a vacancy, the commission develops criteria for choosing nominees, publicizes the names of applicants, holds two public hearings on the applicants for appointment and submits the names of two nominees to the Wicomico County Council.

From there, the council is expected to hold a public hearing regarding the nominees within 60 days. If the council deems at least one of the nominees acceptable, it will then vote on the nominees and fill the vacancy.

“It’s a somewhat complex procedure because it involves a nominating commission that then makes recommendations to the council,” Taylor told the council last week. “And as we saw what happened a couple of months ago, that can get hung up in council and the whole process could take quite a while.”

Earlier this year, the council voted to appoint Tonya Laird Lewis to fill a vacancy on the school board created by the death of member David Goslee, who was elected to represent District 3 late last year.

That decision, however, followed a lengthy nomination process and a tie vote between Lewis and candidate Gains Hawkins Jr.

Taylor said a referendum question posed to voters in the 2016 general election offered options for how members of the school board were chosen, but did not address the procedures for filling board vacancies.

“The referendum didn’t really cast anything in stone in terms of how you go about filling a vacancy,” he said.

In his memo to the council last week, Taylor noted Wicomico County is one of the few counties in which prospective appointees to fill a vacancy are nominated by a separate body, which in this case would be the nominating commission.

“The first issue to discuss is do you just want to do away with the nominating committee,” he said. “Is there any real need for it? It looks like most counties get by fine without it.”

Councilman Larry Dodd said the idea behind creating the commission was to ensure more members of the public were included in the process. Council President John Cannon and Councilman Bill McCain, however, pointed out several issues with the current process.

“The thing we found with the commission was we don’t need two public hearings at the commission level,” McCain said.

Cannon agreed.

“And they had a problem getting all the members to the commission meetings to have a quorum,” he said.

Taylor noted that Wicomico County is also among the minority in which a nominee is appointed for just part of the remaining term if the vacancy occurs early in the term. He questioned if the council should reconsider the issue.

“Most counties, though not all, appoint for the full term,” he said.

Taylor said if the county chooses to change the procedure for school board vacancies, it would have to be through state legislation.

“I think we would be fine without a referendum, but it would have to go through the General Assembly,” he said.

The council agreed to continue the discussion at a later work session. Members also agreed to contact local representatives regarding their efforts to change the procedure.

“I want to make sure this is something we can get to Annapolis in time,” Cannon said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.