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(UPDATED) Meshkin Excluded, Then Allowed in School Board Meeting

While in California on business, school board member Brian Meshkin wanted to participate in meeting via phone or video. The board turned down the idea but then reversed itself.

UPDATE: The Board of Education at about 5:55 p.m. voted 7-0 to allow member Brian Meshkin to fully participate and vote in the remainder of tonight's school board meeting.

Howard County Board of Education member Brian Meshkin is about as angry as he can recall being, and that anger is aimed at some school board colleagues he said tried to keep him from carrying out his duties as a board member.

Meshkin, who works for a California-based company and often travels for business, is in California today and will miss tonight's board meeting during which the board will vote on proposed middle school program changes.

When the school board voted on the proposal at its Jan. 26 meeting, the result was a 4-4 deadlock, with board members Cindy Vaillancourt, Allen Dyer, Tomi Williams and Meshkin opposing it.

Meshkin asked his colleagues for permission to participate in tonight's meeting via electronic means—either teleconference or video conference—and said he was told that wasn't permissible.

He is concerned that his opposition to the proposal is being silenced with the exclusion.

"I asked to participate via a teleconference, and (board President) Sandy French told me that wasn't possible and that it would violate open meeting laws," Meshkin said Thursday. "And then (school system attorney) Mark Blom told me I could participate via phone."

The Howard County School Board met in closed session at 2 p.m. Thursday, and French could not be reached for comment.

Blom, the school system's attorney, said Thursday that he was preparing a legal opinion to submit to board members and would not comment on that opinion before delivering it to the board.

"I did talk to Mr. Meshkin," Blom said. "In my opinion, (permitting Meshkin to participate) would not violate open meetings laws."

But, Blom added, the issue isn't so much with the interpretation of open meeting laws as it is with the interpretation of a section in the board handbook regarding parliamentary procedure.

The handbook provision states that a board member cannot cast a vote in absentia or by proxy.

At issue is the definition of "absent," Blom said.

Blom was set to issue his opinion to the board Thursday afternoon.

Regardless of the lawyer's opinion, it will still be up to a board vote to decide whether Meshkin will be allowed to participate in the meeting electronically, Blom said.

"We're setting it up so that, if that's the board's decision, Mr. Meshkin will be able to participate tonight," Blom said.

Meshkin said he was appalled by what he characterized as "illegal" activity and an attempt to keep him from his board duties.

"I think it's pretty horrendous," he said in a phone interview. "It's shocking to me—this is illegal, immoral and unethical.

"This is an attempt to disenfranchise me, and to keep me from voting. This is wrong, and it's an affront to the voters and an affront to the laws."

The school board has allowed at least one other member to participate via phone in a meeting, Blom said.

Blom said that occurred about 10 years ago, when technology was not as good as it is now, and the transmission of board member Jim O'Donnell's phone participation "wasn't perfect."

"But that was 10 years ago," he said.

The Frederick County Board of Education has been allowing members to participate via phone for at least four or five years, according to Frederick County Public Schools spokeswoman Marita Loose.

"We have done that on several occasions, when a board member is out of town, or ill, or recovering at home," she said Thursday.

The school system allowed the phone participation "once technology was in place to make that easily possible," she said.

Corey Andrews February 09, 2012 at 09:22 PM
I hope Mr Blom is right. Mr. Meshkin has every legal right to participate in the meeting via teleconference. Present at a meeting means present in conscience. If a member is able to communicate with other members and the public during a meeting, they are present. While I have great respect for Mrs. French, I don't believe that this is solely up to the Board Chairperson.
Thomas Diller February 09, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Are you quoting the board handbook Corey?
Corey Andrews February 10, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Thomas, the board handbook is not the law and is not legally binding. They are simply recommendations. Aw we've come to find out, Mr Blom was right, and Brian Meshkin was allowed to participate via teleconference.
Corey Andrews February 10, 2012 at 12:33 AM
And I'll give an example of that... The board handbook says that only regular members, not the student member, may be candidates for an officer position(Chairman, Vice Chairman) on the board. Yet, Josh Manley, the student member at the time, was nominated. The board handbook is set out to help keep the board operating smoothly under normal conditions. However, when an abnormal condition, like a member wanting to participate via teleconference, arises, the board can only refer the the law. The board was legally allowed to do it in the past.
Thomas Diller February 10, 2012 at 01:17 AM
So you were quoting law then? And Josh was nominated? By who, Dyer?
Corey Andrews February 10, 2012 at 02:06 AM
I'm pointing out a lack of law. There is no law prohibiting a board member from participating in a meeting via teleconference. The law states that board members must be present. If a board member has the ability to collaborate with members during the public meeting, they are present. Yes, I believe he was nominated by Dyer, but all of the other board members acknowledged that fact that Josh had the right to stand for election.
Allen Dyer February 10, 2012 at 05:54 AM
from the last page of the "Board of Education of Howard County Handbook," p. 63: G. The Board Handbook This Board Handbook is intended to be an advisory resource for Board members and is superseded by all HCPSS policies. allen dyer
Ann Delacy February 10, 2012 at 01:47 PM
The 7:30 pm session of the February 9th BOE meeting was like something out of reality tv. You have to see it to believe it.
Robert R February 10, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Is that handbook available online?
Robert R February 10, 2012 at 02:09 PM
I find it quite interesting that Mr. Meshkin had time in his busy schedule away for his duties at Salugen and the HC BOE to contact the press on this matter. If he indeed has a job that requires him to travel regularly and routinely to CA and miss as many BOE meetings as he testified to last night, perhaps he should step down and allow someone with the time and opportunity to meet the demands of the job. If this kind of behavior becomes the norm (in absentia voting), BOE meetings can be held from the comfort of everyone's bedroom while they relax in their PJs. Meshkin's "outrage" last night is NOTHING more than the usual political "stuff" he uses to run for the next office he seeks. Our BOE has turned into a mirror-image of the US Congress and its two political parties. How truly sad for the children of HC. The parents and voters of the county have the opportunity in November to start making needed changes by voting out Allen Dyer, the Instigator in Chief.
Marge Neal (Editor) February 10, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Robert — For the record, Mr. Meshkin did not contact me about the problem, and was a little hesitant to talk to me when I contacted him. I told him that I thought it was an important story to tell and I was going to pursue it. I preferred to have his first-hand facts about it, and he agreed to talk to me. — Marge Neal
Ann Delacy February 10, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Thanks for the clarification, Marge.
Ann Delacy February 10, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Robert, the behaviors displayed at last night's meeting indicate that the problems with the BOE do not rest solely at the feet of Allen Dyer. I was appalled.
Vanessa Smith-Lang February 10, 2012 at 02:57 PM
I hope EVERYONE plans to attend this event next month! Board of Education Candidates' Forum Mon., Mar. 5, 6 p.m. Dept. of Education, Board Rm. A-B, 10910 Rt. 108, Elllicott City Get to know your Board of Education candidates at this forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and The PTA Council of Howard County.
MG42 February 10, 2012 at 05:22 PM
I am so sick of my tax dollars having to fund the circus that is the Howard County Public School System and Board of Ed. People are entirely too insane when it comes to education for government to be running the schools.
Paul Lemle February 11, 2012 at 02:05 PM
The meeting can (and should!) be viewed at http://hcpsstv.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=6&clip_id=788 Around 3:20, you can hear HCEA's report. At 3:35 or so, the school system's Central Office staff, and then the Board of Ed does their thing in the fourth and fifth hour. Look at the display from 5:30 forward; then decide for yourself if the school system is the problem, as opposed to the elected officials charged with its governance.
bill bissenas February 21, 2012 at 01:04 PM
This is a failure of School Board leadership. While I don't agree with Mr. Meshkin on everything, particularly the 600 teens living in the woods in HoCo, I believe he was misled. So if there is a resignation to be had, it should come from the leadership.
bill bissenas February 21, 2012 at 01:06 PM
What I find particularly distasteful is the reaction board members had when Mr. Meshkin sought to explain his view of attempts to exclude him and then only include him when some on the Board thought it necessary to include him to further their own agenda. One might reasonably assume Mr. Meshkin was being played.
allabout February 22, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Hi i believe your point and i saw your program in t.v acter that only i trusted fully.
allabout February 22, 2012 at 12:19 PM
The board handbook is set out to help keep the board operating smoothly under normal conditions. However, when an abnormal condition, like a member wanting to participate via teleconference, arises, the board can only refer the the law. The board was legally allowed to do it in the past.
Bewildered March 10, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Sounds like our HOA BOD meetings.
Ann Delacy March 10, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Bewildered, your comment is so funny and probably very true.

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