The chairman of the Wicomico Republican Central Committee is defending having a school board member at a meeting where candidates for that same school board were being interviewed.
Central Committee Chairman Mark McIver said John Palmer, who’s an appointed member of the Wicomico County Board of Education, had every right to be present when candidates were interviewed by the Central Committee. Palmer, he said, is both a member of the Central Committee and familiar with educational procedures.
In fact, McIver said, Palmer’s input was helpful in determining whose names would be sent to Gov. Larry Hogan’s office for consideration for appointment to the school board. McIver cited Palmer’s role as a facilities manager at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and said he “brings to the Central Committee a very needed resource,” McIver said.
“We were very glad to have John on this committee because he, more than anyone, was familiar with the process and the makeup. Why would it be a conflict of interest? I don’t see it as a conflict at all. I feel like not having him there would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face,” McIver said.
There will be two vacancies on the board at the end of June – seats now held by Kim Hudson and Dr. Carolyn Elmore.
Hudson, a Republican who is finishing her first partial term – four of five years – wants to be reappointed; Elmore is retiring. School board members are paid an annual stipend of about $3,700.
Hudson confirmed to the Salisbury Independent that she was interviewed by Republican Central Committee members, including her board colleague Palmer. Hudson said she has also independently submitted her application to the governor’s office.
Hudson’s appointment four years ago by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley has been a sore point with local Republicans because her nomination did not go through the Central Committee.
For the past two or three months, the Central Committee solicited applicants, McIver said.
In Wicomico County, school board members are appointed, but that could change after a referendum vote in November. Voters will decide if the system should remain unchanged, if school board members should be elected or if there should be a hybrid system, with some elected and some appointed.
“We interviewed five people who came forward and said, ‘I’d be interested in serving on the board.’ After that meeting, we sent up names of those most qualified to the governor,” McIver said.
He declined to release the names or say how many were recommended. “We don’t want to get into the details,” he said.
“What we do is to send up the governor what we feel is a good fit. The governor can take those names. He can totally disregard them. He can take those people up to Annapolis. He can take other names from a state delegate or a senator or somebody who has applied straight to the governor’s appointment office and the governor,” he said.
“When we interviewed the candidates, as chairman I didn’t ask Mr. Palmer to step aside. As a matter of fact I encouraged him to stay on the board through the interview process. I’m not really concerned what it looks like. I’m just interested in doing the very best thing we can do for the children of Wicomico County,” McIver said.
Fulton Jeffers, the school board’s attorney, refused to comment on whether there was a conflict of interest, saying he doesn’t represent the Central Committee.
“I don’t know the rules and bylaws. It’s not a Board of Education process,” Jeffers said.
McIver also said the Central Committee will work for an increase in the amount school board members are paid, hoping to see it increase to $15,000 annually.
“Anybody who would serve on the school board really deserves a lot of credit. It’s a thankless job. It’s many, many hours. The pay, or the compensation, is more of an insult than an asset. It’s a slap in the face. If you took all the hours they put in for that pay you’re probably talking minimum wage divided by 100,” McIver said.
Reach Susan Canfora at firstname.lastname@example.org.