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Judge orders Baltimore County School Board to let chief auditor keep her job

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John Lee
/
Baltimore County Public School Board

A Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge has ordered the county school board to immediately renew the contract of the school system’s chief auditor who was fired six weeks ago.

The embattled school auditor has been targeted by some board members over the years for critical audits about how the board handles its budget and spends taxpayer money.

On May 17, the school board voted to terminate Andrea Barr’s annual contract, which expires June 30. Six of the 11 members present voted to renew Barr’s contract. The remaining five board members did not vote, instead either abstaining or recusing themselves.

There are 12 seats on the board, the last of which was vacant at the time of the vote. It takes at least seven votes for the board to approve any agenda items.

The temporary restraining order from Judge Nancy Purpura takes issue with that seven-vote threshold. It requires the school board to “correct its official record and minutes to properly, truthfully, and accurately reflect the lawful vote in favor of renewing plaintiff Barr’s employment contract.”

A separate lawsuit filed by Barr’s attorney alleges the May 17 vote was orchestrated to put an “illegitimate end to plaintiff’s career. They have acted outside the scope of their authority and with gross negligence and malice.”

Barr has been with the school system for 36 years, and has worked as the chief auditor since 2013.

The lawsuit alleges a campaign of retaliation against Barr by two board members, Kathleen Causey and Russ Kuehn. Neither voted in May to renew her contract.

In 2019, Causey and Kuehn “initiated a campaign of pressure and threats directed at plaintiff to influence the critical work of the Office of Internal Audit in a quest to develop audit results suiting their agenda, and to obscure or erase fact-based findings, including fact-based findings developed in investigations regarding their own conduct,” according to the lawsuit.

The suit cites two audits of how the school board spends money which found “irregularities and improper expenditures by some Board members.”

Causey and Kuehn have repeatedly not responded to requests for comment. Board Chair Julie Henn has declined to comment, saying it is a personnel matter.

Barr, as well as her attorney, Kathleen Cahill, have declined to comment.

A preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled in the case July 6.

The seven vote threshold to get something passed on the school board has been an issue before.

In December 2019, the board appointed a new chair for the coming year. Causey, who was the chair at the time, received five votes. Board member Cheryl Pasteur got six. But because she did not get a seventh vote, Causey remained the chair.

That decision was affirmed by a Maryland State Board of Education opinion that it takes seven votes to adopt a motion or resolution.

Maryland State Sen. Charles Sydnor, a Democrat who represents Baltimore County’s 44th District, has introduced legislation in the General Assembly in the past to change the seven vote threshold to a simple majority.

The legislation has failed to pass.

“A number of board members came out against the bill,” Sydnor said. “They thought it was about interfering and characterized it in all kinds of ways when in fact I thought it was more of a Democratic thing, where majority wins.”

Sydnor said if he is reelected in the fall, he may introduce the legislation again.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County.
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