Prince George's County School Board members cleared of misconduct speak out
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. - Current and former Prince George's County School Board members are speaking out after a state investigation found accusations they abused their positions were false.
FOX 5 was the first to report on a newly released investigation by the Maryland Office of the Inspector General for Education (OIGE).
"I was so pleased. It was a total vindication," said former board member Edward Burroughs, who now sits on the county council.
It was over a year ago when the Prince George’s County School Board’s Ethics Panel recommended the majority of elected board members be removed or resign following accusations of misconduct.
"It was an orchestrated attack to try to get rid of the elected board members," Burroughs said. "We had just won our elections and for the first time, we had board members who are not beholden to the powers that be and so they did whatever they could to try to get rid of us."
The ethics panel recommended the resignation or removal of Burroughs, David Murray, Raaheela Ahmed, Joshua Thomas, Kenneth Harris, and Shayla Adams-Stafford. The panel recommended sanctions for Belinda Queen.
"They accused us of one of the most egregious things that an elected official can do which would be pay for play," Adams-Stafford said.
Initially, the ethics panel findings were not made public but anonymously mailed to elected leaders in the county. This past June, the board voted to accept the findings which made them public, and sent them to the Maryland State Board of Education.
"Some of us have lost career opportunities. Even going on interviews some of us have been asked about these false ethics reports. Those of us that own businesses have lost clients," Adams-Stafford said. "It’s been terrible."
"Despite news agencies pointing out the factual errors in the report months ago, and elected board members reaching out to explain the issues within the report to appointed board members, the (largely appointed) Board of Education voted to concur the report in June of this year, further fueling the flame," Ahmed said in a statement provided to FOX 5.
The members have denied the allegations and presented evidence countering the claims.
"That information was purposely ignored," Adams-Stafford said.
The OIGE launched a months-long investigation into the ethics panels’ findings that was released Friday. The investigation found the panel used "opinion-based conclusions" inconsistent with facts, and that the findings were reckless and unreliable.
OIGE said the ethics panel violated school board policy by issuing a false report, and the board chairwoman and the school district’s lawyer also broke policy.
The former chair of the ethics panel, Gregory Morton, told FOX 5 Tuesday that he’s disappointed by what’s happened.
"We stand behind what we put out there," he said of the panel’s findings.
Morton said he doesn’t believe it’s the state inspector general’s responsibility to make a judgment on the findings, and pointed out the investigation is now in the hands of the Maryland State Board of Education which will review whether the six board members should be removed.
Morton said board members had an opportunity to dispute the ethics panel’s findings in a hearing, but none opted to do so.
Morton and the rest of the all-volunteer ethics panel resigned in April citing a dysfunctional board, false accusations against them and the state investigation that was underway.
Prince George's Co. Schools Ethics Panel resigns amid investigation
Board Chair Juanita Miller did not responded to multiple requests for comment.
The OIGE investigation said Miller violated board policy when she voted to accept the findings because she should have recused herself since she called for the ethics panel investigation into the board members.
The state investigation found the false report by the ethics panel cost taxpayers over $100,000.
The report found the school district hired a separate attorney for the ethics panel in violation of policy.
OIGE made several recommendations to prevent future policy violations and found no criminal violations occurred.
A PGCPS spokesperson tells FOX 5: "Our general counsel will review the report and all findings and recommendations and will consult with the administration."
A spokesperson for County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said she had no comment at this time.