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After flawed ethics reports on Prince George’s school board, parents and activists seek investigation

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A group of parents and activists is calling for an investigation of an ethics panel in Prince George’s County that produced factually flawed reports targeting elected members of the school board.

They filed a complaint with the Maryland Office of the Inspector General for Education on Friday, accusing the ethics panel of using “taxpayer funds to conduct an apparently improper investigation.”

The letter to Richard P. Henry, the inspector general for education, cited an article in The Washington Post this week about misleading information and errors contained in the ethics reports. Henry did not respond to requests for comment.

In its reports, the ethics panel recommended the removal of six younger, more liberal members who tend to vote as a bloc and have frequently clashed with the county’s more moderate political establishment. Hard copies of the reports — which were supposed to be confidential — were mailed to a host of the county’s most powerful elected leaders earlier this summer, leading to weeks of political turmoil in this Maryland suburb.

Gregory T. Morton Sr., the chair of the five-person ethics panel, did not respond to requests for comment. In a previous statement to The Post, he cited the confidentiality of the reports as his reason for declining an interview.

Error-riddled ethics reports on school board create political firestorm in Prince George’s County

Members of the ethics panel, including Morton, are appointed to three-year terms by the school board chair with the concurrence of the board. Morton has served on the panel since October 2015, according to his LinkedIn page.

The purpose of the ethics panel, the letter to the inspector general noted, is to investigate allegations of unethical conduct by public officials to promote trust in government.

Instead, the letter says, the ethics panel “utilized this flawed report, based on an equally flawed investigation, to recommend the removal of the majority of elected Board members, who collectively earned over 200,000 votes from county residents during recent elections.”

The bloc of elected board members that the ethics panel recommended for removal gained a majority on the board in November by defeating a candidate backed by County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) and a host of the county’s top political leaders.

The letter was signed by eight people, including parents, Bladensburg City Council member Jocelyn Route and Janna Parker, a co-chair of the legislative policy committee for PG Change Makers, a grass-roots group focused on racial and social justice.

Parker, a former educator who has been attending school board meetings for years, said she was “enraged” by what she sees as an attempt to oust the elected members, who she believes are doing the most to support children.

Beginning in February, complaints were filed with the ethics panel that led to reports focused on school board members David Murray (District 1), Joshua M. Thomas (District 2), Shayla Adams-Stafford (District 4), Raaheela Ahmed (District 5), Belinda Queen (District 6), Kenneth F. Harris II (District 7) and Edwards Burroughs III (District 8).

Eventually, the ethics panel recommended the removal of all but Queen, who was recommended for censure.

Former state’s attorney Glenn Ivey, who is representing three members of the school board, said he was glad that it appeared steps were being taken to “correct the false statements and false allegations” levied against members.

“But I think that is only part of what needs to happen,” Ivey said. “It is going to be important to figure out who is behind the attacks and hold them accountable.”

It is not clear who made the complaints because they are not public.

They were filed around the same time that the board was mired in chaos, with Chair Juanita Miller — who was appointed by Alsobrooks in January — suspending a board meeting and raising concerns about “lucrative no-bid contracts” to friends of board members.

Similar accusations against the bloc of school board members were levied in the ethics reports, which accused them of steering contracts, doing political favors and engaging in a quid pro quo with a labor union.

But The Post found inaccuracies in central details, including the history of the board’s contracting, the work a lobbyist did and the contents of a publicly adopted board resolution.

In its letter to the inspector general, the group calling for an investigation accused the ethics panel of denying hearings to accused board members and said the mailing of the confidential reports was “a clear attempt to politically smear the names of the accused before the investigation was even completed.”

It said the findings have become “a significant distraction from the critical responsibilities” that the school board has in serving children and families.

In a previous statement to The Post, Morton, the ethics panel chair, said that board members were offered the opportunity for a hearing in which they could present evidence, that members of the ethics panel had honored the confidentiality requirement and that the selection of an outside lawyer to assist the panel was made in accordance with policies.

The letter sent Friday to the inspector general concluded by saying that the ethics panel — which was supposed to conduct oversight of the school board — had failed in its duty.

The signers of the letter said outside intervention was necessary to “watch the watchers.”

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