Some Are Wary of Working With Abrams

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 1, 2006

In 10 years of service to the Montgomery County Board of Education, Stephen N. Abrams has developed a reputation for tough talk and, some say, a short fuse.

Now, amid allegations that he assaulted a fellow Republican at a recent party meeting and addressed the man with a volley of racially disparaging terms, some on the school board say they are uncomfortable working with Abrams.

Four current and future board members -- two new members are to be sworn in today -- say they want an explanation from Abrams, at the least.

Abrams (Rockville-Potomac) has been absent from board meetings since the Nov. 13 incident became public knowledge. He said he has spoken to School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast and to the county schools' head of security about the affair.

"Mr. Abrams, I believe, owes the board a statement of sorts, as well as the public," said board member Nancy Navarro (Northeastern County). She is particularly concerned about the prospect that Abrams used racially insensitive language, which, if true, "brings a totally other angle to it. I think he should really think about, what does his continued presence on the board mean?"

Abrams, who was elected in 2004 after two previous four-year terms, has two years left in his term.

Abrams is accused of grappling with Adol T. Owen-Williams II in a stairwell after a meeting of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee. Owen-Williams said Abrams charged up the stairs and grabbed him around the neck when Owen-Williams asked about a $5,000 campaign debt that Abrams had pledged to cover.

According to Owen-Williams and a witness, Abrams repeatedly referred to Owen-Williams as "son" and "boy" during the scuffle. Abrams, 63, is white, and Owen-Williams, 42, is black. Abrams neither confirmed nor denied making the comments.

Owen-Williams filed a complaint against Abrams on Nov. 15. Abrams in a countercharge, portrayed Owen-Williams as the attacker.

The men voluntarily entered mediation yesterday, but the session ended without resolution, both said afterward. County prosecutors must decide whether to prosecute either or both cases.

Valerie Ervin (Silver Spring), who is about to leave the board to join the County Council, agreed that Abrams should make a public statement, as did Shirley Brandman (At Large), who is about to join the board, and Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase), one of its senior members. All four stressed that they consider Abrams innocent until proved guilty.

Some on the board say the allegations look bad in light of Abrams's reputation as being temperamental. They recounted incidents as recent as last year in which, they say, Abrams publicly sparred with two County Council members. "He tends to lose his temper," Ervin said. "He's lost his temper with me more than once."

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