Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dyer Impeachment Stands

Sara Toth with the Flier writes that the Maryland State Board of Education has upheld the impeachment of Allen Dyer from the Howard County Board of Education as ruled by Administrative Law Judge Douglas Koteen.  It has been over five months since Dyer stepped down from his post and over a year since he lost his re-election bid at the primary level in April 2012, but this decision still matters.

First, impeachment is a very big deal.  Regardless of whatever voter's remorse Mr. Dyer may have inspired amongst some, he was a duly elected official to the Board of Education.  That is a powerful endorsement.  In most cases, the voters' embrace holds firm regardless of whatever malfeasance the elected perform.  That's just how democracy works.  We insulate the (small d) democratic from the political.  An impeachment is the narrow area of confluence where the judicial oversees the executive/legislative, and is otherwise a very dangerous place to be.  It is not the preferred place for office-holders to be decided.

In Mr. Dyer's case, there were a number of distinct points in time where the quasi-judicial processes available for impeachment could have abdicated their decision-making power.  If this were simply a difference of opinion or a witch-hunt, you could quite fairly presume that the case would have been dismissed at an early level or over-turned with the comfort of a long since passed election.

Within this context, noting the weight of impeachment, the uncomfortable imposition of judicial powers, and the availability of dismissal at any stage - Allen Dyer was impeached.

Second, this is much bigger than a man.  Allen Dyer is a perfectly fine individual who meant well and is the protagonist of his own story.  Impeachment does not take away from that one iota.  Impeachment serves as regulation most severe.  There is a process.  You may do whatever you choose, and vote however you choose, within that process, but if you try to put yourself above the process, you will be removed.

What was Allen Dyer's offense?  Boiled away from everything else, he sought to lionize himself by redefining transparency.  He approached transparency as an ideal that existed outside of whatever definition may be applicable under the law; followed at all costs in whatever manner he saw fit.  Mr. Dyer released attorney-client privileged materials, secretly recorded Board members without their knowledge (criminal offense), and released material that was sealed for the benefit of a minor.  Essentially, Mr. Dyer sought to obliterate any and all restrictions that were placed on him as a member of a deliberative body.

In affirming the impeachment, the State Board of Education reclaims the supremacy of the collective over the individual in matters of deliberative government.

Finally, the impeachment restores authority and legitimacy to the Howard County Board of Education.  I really liked this quote that Sara Toth included from Board Member Frank Aquino:

"From the start, this case has been about following the law, and a local board's right and ability to govern itself," Aquino said. "The state board decision today confirmed that right and I am pleased with the result. It has been a long journey."

I see it as a little bit more than that.  When a Board, Council, or Legislature determines what it can release to the public and what it cannot, that is a weighty, difficult decision that oftentimes will be used as campaign fodder for those who wish to fill their seats.  It is hard.  No matter what accusations may be made about arrogance or corruption, there is a line where matters of public concern require private deliberation.  Those matters should eventually be released, and oversight should be imposed wherever possible, but so long as that body is expected to negotiate contracts, address personnel matters, or oversee the conduct of their attorneys, there is a permissive sliver of closed doors.

Those doors will constantly be a point of resentment and tension.  That tension is beneficial to democracy and must be kept tight, but never breached.  When a member determines that they do not want to abide by the decisions of their colleagues on matters of transparency, the public is turned against the institution.  Public trust is upended.  Instead of addressing the substance, everything becomes a matter of process.  That is exactly what happened here and there are still elements of this community who continue to resent the Board of Education for matters of process that were invoked by Mr. Dyer.

I can't say this enough - this is not about Allen Dyer.  Mr. Dyer took an easy road to notoriety simply by breaking the rules.  What we really should be talking about is that "permissive sliver" we allow those we elect to office in which they know more than we do and must make decisions independent of our ken.  There is so much balance involved that you almost require an episode like the one we just experienced with Allen Dyer to appreciate the boundaries.  The argument will never be over, but for now the process of debate is restored.

That's all for today.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!  Rock on.