Committee looking at school board credit cards to allow public in on discussion -- Gazette.Net






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This story was updated at 4:00 p.m. on June 10, 2014.

An ad-hoc committee examining credit cards given to Montgomery school board members will hold open meetings going forward after one meeting behind closed doors.

The committee — consisting of school board president Philip Kauffman, board vice president Patricia O’Neill and board member Michael Durso — met for the first time in early May in a closed meeting.

Kauffman formed the group in April after it was brought to light that school board member Christopher S. Barclay used his school system-issued credit card to make personal purchases totaling nearly $1,500 and later had to reimburse the school system for them.

The committee will hold its next meeting on Thursday.

Dana Tofig, a county school system spokesman, said in a Tuesday email that the meeting will be open and the committee members are scheduled to meet with the attorneys before the meeting.

Kauffman had said in an interview earlier on Tuesday that the meeting would be closed because it would involve committee members’ discussions with school system attorneys.

The school board has come under fire for the decision to closing some of its meetings as its reviewed the issue.

The committee’s first meeting was closed because the members were following normal procedures for the board’s ad-hoc committees, which typically focus on school board operations rather than school system policy, Kauffman said.

In the past, he said, the committees have not been required to comply with the Maryland Open Meetings Act.

The current ad-hoc committee, Kauffman said, does not involve a quorum of board members and was formed by the board president rather than the full board.

David Paulson, communications director for the state Attorney General’s Office, said he could not comment on the specific situation of the Montgomery board’s committee. Speaking generally, he said that — based on the state law and opinion from the state Open Meetings Compliance Board — it is OK for an ad-hoc committee or subcommittee to hold a closed meeting if the group does not constitute a quorum of the full body and was not formed by a rule, resolution or bylaw.

The Montgomery school board consists of seven members plus a student member. A quorum is at least four members.

Kauffman said public interest spurred the decision to open up the committee’s meetings.

Danuta Wilson, a member of the Parents’ Coalition, filed a complaint dated May 31 with the Maryland Attorney General’s Office that raises “an apparent violation” by the county school board of the state Open Meetings Act. The complaint cites the committee’s closed meeting in early May.

Paulson said the state Attorney General’s Office will reply to the complaint within about 30 days.

The committee members will meet on Thursday with school system attorneys who have been going through expense records from the past several years, Kauffman said.

He said he’s “not sure where that review will lead us.”

Kauffman said the committee members’ discussion during the early May meeting included the processes and guidelines associated with the cards.

The minutes of that first meeting will be posted, he said.

After its review, the Montgomery ad-hoc committee will make recommendations to the full school board.

Kauffman said he anticipates recommendations related to the school board’s handbook, how the credit card expenses are processed and the requirements for expense approvals.

“There were issues that have come up where we’ve determined that we needed clarification of our expense guidelines,” he said.

Their discussion also will cover whether board members should have the cards at all, he said.

Kauffman said he does not know how many meetings the committee will hold before the members make a recommendation and move the issue to the full board.

The committee will conduct “as many as it will take to get the job done,” he said.