By Ryan Miner
About twenty people showed up in earnest last night to a public hearing before the Washington County School Board Nominating Commission at the Washington County Administrative Complex in Hagerstown to voice their opinions about the seven candidates who applied for the school board vacancy, created when Karen Harshman was expelled from the Board on April 25 for misconduct and willful neglect of duty.
12 speakers, including myself, spoke before the nominating committee in support of one or three candidates. After public testimony concluded, the committee adjourned for a brief deliberative period and returned shortly after 7:00 p.m.
The chairman of the nonpartisan nominating commission, Jerry DeWolf, announced that only two names (the panel, by law, could legally appoint up to three but chose not to) will be forward to the county commissioners for recommendation Al Martin and Linda Murray.
While the school board position is nonpartisan, the public hearing brought out a cadre of Republican partisans, including three members of the Republican Central Committee, who spoke mostly on behalf of Linda Murray and one, Marilee Kerns, on behalf of Al Martin.
Several Washington County Democratic activists also attended the meeting and spoke before the nominating commission – some questioning the overtly partisan nature of the committee and calling into question the commissioners choice of appointing the current chairman of the Republican Central Committee, Mr. DeWolf, to lead the nonpartisan school board search committee.
Both Mr. Martin and Ms. Murray ran for the school board in 2016 and were defeated in the general election by Melissa Williams, Stan Stouffer, Pieter Bickford and Wayne Ridenour. Martin is retired, having served as the longtime City of Hagerstown finance director; Murray is a retired paraprofessional who worked in Washington County Public Schools for 26 years.
Murray is considered to be the nominal favorite among the county commissioners. She is currently the secretary of the Washington County Republican Club and an avid Republican activist. County Commissioners Wayne Keefer and Terry Baker are rumored to be pushing Murray’s candidacy and lobbying the other commissioners on Murray’s behalf.
I received word late last night from two sources who work in county government and who are close to the county commissioners who alleged that Linda Murray is already telling several supporters that she is a lock for the school board seat and that the commissioners will undoubtedly appoint her sometime within the 15-day time frame.
Several community members, including Elizabeth Paul, a school teacher in Frederick County and a Democratic activist, have challenged the commissioners choice to appoint the partisan DeWolf to lead the nonpartisan search commission.
Paul wrote in a May 24 editorial to Herald-Mail Media,
We’ve had enough embarrassment with this Board of Education debacle that every effort should have been made to keep this process as legitimate as possible and above question. Instead, our five Republican county commissioners made it partisan.
To have the county’s Republican Party chairman lead a selection committee for a nonpartisan appointment is simply ridiculous and indefensible. The commissioners seriously erred by not keeping it apolitical so that the three candidates forwarded to them and the one ultimately chosen would be without any partisan taint. The Board of Education is nonpartisan for a reason, and it would have been wise to respect that after the recent ugliness.
A growing consensus in Washington County believes the search committee was a ruse, a sham of sorts, from the outset with the committee walking through the deliberative motions but ultimately forwarding Linda Murray’s name, as it was initially predicted by several members of the community, to the county commissioners for appointment. However, several members of the search commission defended the integrity of its process, rejecting any notion that the commission was innately partisan.
Martin and Murry’s names will now be forwarded to the Washington County commissioners. It is expected that the commissioners will announce Murray’s appointment on June 6 at their weekly Tuesday meeting.