State Body Rules Against Montgomery School Board AGAIN
Second Violation of Open Meetings Act Found On Brickyard School Site
July 18, 2011, Potomac, MD — The Maryland State Open Meetings Compliance Board has once again found that the Montgomery County Board of Education violated the Open Meetings Act regarding the Brickyard Road middle school site in Potomac, by secretly excluding the public from key information amid the controversial decision to turn a 31-year-old organic farm into soccer fields.
The decision, dated July 13, 2011, primarily regards the March 8, 2011 closed session meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Education. Complainants were Nicholas Maravell, owner of Nick’s Organic Farm, and Victoria Cowles, his wife. The Compliance Board concluded that the County Board violated the Open Meetings Act “in a number of ways”: when it convened a closed session on the basis of a closing resolution that did not meet particular requirements, when it discussed matters beyond the scope of the exception they claimed, when it did not prepare “meaningful minutes” of the closed session, and “when it did not include meaningful information about the session in the minutes of its subsequent open meeting” (click here for the July 13 decision).
These findings illustrate a lack of process and transparency—critical in a democracy on any issue, and particularly important in this case, because the change would eliminate the county’s only certified organic seed farm, Nick’s Organic Farm in Potomac. The farm’s destruction would send a domino effect throughout the region’s organic agricultural economy and eliminate the chance to use it as a model farm for agricultural education.
“The Compliance Board’s decisions are encouraging news for us,” says Nick Maravell, owner of Nick’s Organic Farm. “Our suspicions that the school board has hidden their discussions and made decisions behind closed doors have been verified. Community leaders have been saying all along this process has been flawed, and now, step by step, we are revealing the actual events to the public,” Maravell says. “Hopefully, this will lead to a correction.”
Ginny Barnes, President of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, says, “At last a finding that justifies citizen concerns about the secrecy of such meetings. Too bad the County Executive Office cannot also be cited since they were a party to the deliberate lack of transparency."
Nick’s Organic Farm Press Release, July 18, 2011 (cont’d)
Curt Uhre, member of the Brickyard Coalition of Montgomery County, a citizens’ group, adds, “I am deeply troubled that our Board of Education has now twice been found in violation of the Open Meetings Act in regard to the Brickyard School site. The Board’s secret and improper negotiations to lease a property owned by the citizens of Montgomery County to a private party should be fully investigated by the Attorney General.”
Just two weeks ago, the Open Meetings Compliance Board found another violation in a decision dated June 27, 2011, which regards a June 8, 2010 closed meeting, where the Brickyard Road property was also discussed. Complainants were Janis Zink Sartucci and Rosanne Hurwitz. In this decision, the Compliance Board also concluded that the School Board “violated the Act in a number of ways.” These include: when it convened a closed session that did not meet requirements, “when it discussed matters exceeding the scope of the exception it claimed,” and “when it did not include meaningful information about the session in the minutes of its subsequent open meeting” (click here to see the June 27 decision).
Decisions of the Open Meetings Compliance Board are advisory, but these two decisions pave the way for further legal action to seek enforcement and remedy.
The Brickyard Road School Site is owned by the Board of Education of Montgomery County. From March of 1980 to March 2011, it was leased to Nick’s Organic Farm, where Nick Maravell farmed it organically. In March 3 of this year, with less than three weeks before the end of the lease, the BOE said it would vote on March 8 (2.5 business days’ notice) to turn the lease over to the County, while the County announced it would develop soccer fields on the site in a public-private partnership. On April 19, the School Board signed a lease with the County turning it over to the County, except the school board retains the right to terminate the lease if the land is needed for school purposes.
Nick’s Organic Farm LLC (www.nicksorganicfarm.com) has certified organic operations in Potomac and Buckeystown, MD, producing row crops, grass-based livestock, vegetables, seed, and animal feeds. Farming organically since 1979, Nick Maravell, its owner, is nationally recognized and has been called on to testify at federal and state levels. He has been active in national and state development of organic legislation and standards, organic research priorities, and organic marketing issues. Late last year, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack appointed Maravell to serve on the National Organic Standards Board, a panel of unpaid experts established by Congress to set organic industry policy.
All content on the website of Nick’s Organic Farm is original and the property of Nick’s Organic Farm, unless otherwise indicated.