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Baltimore County School Board fights back in court against chief auditor claims

John Lee

The Baltimore County School Board is pushing back in court against the chief auditor who filed a lawsuit after the board terminated her contract last month.

Attorneys for the school board argued that it had the authority to fire chief auditor Andrea Barr and dismissed claims she was fired in retaliation, according to a motion filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court on Wednesday.

The board wants the temporary restraining order handed down by Judge Nancy Purpura, which requires the board to renew Barr’s contract that expired on June 30, to be dissolved.

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

In response to the school board, Barr’s attorney Kathleen Cahill said there’s no “urgency” to reverse the temporary restraining order before the hearing next week.

Barr alleged the May 17 vote to terminate her contract was orchestrated to end her 36 year career.

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

In 2019, Causey and Kuehn, who were on the school board’s audit committee, “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 Barr’s lawsuit.

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

The school board’s motion denies the allegation that Causey and Kuehn created a hostile environment for Barr.

It states that an investigation by an outside law firm into that complaint concluded “that board members zealously approached their jobs on the Audit Committee” and that “[we] found no evidence that any member of the Board took adverse employment action against Ms. Barr when she refused to act on requests that she considered inappropriate.”

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.

A key issue in the legal argument is how many votes it takes on the school board to pass a motion.

Last month, the school board voted to terminate Barr’s annual contract. Six of the 11 members present voted to renew Barr’s contract. The remaining five board members, including Causey and Kuehn, 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.

Barr is claiming that her contract was renewed on a 6-0 vote May 17. Barr cites Robert’s Rules of Order, which the school board adheres to, which “provides that a motion is adopted with the concurrence of the majority of the Board, defining majority as ‘more than half the votes cast by the members entitled to vote.’”

“That view is fundamentally erroneous,” according to the school board.

The school board argues that state law says It takes at least seven votes for the 12-member board to approve any agenda items, no matter the circumstances of the vote.

“This remains true even where, as here, there is a vacancy on the board,” according to the school board’s motion.

The board goes on to state that Barr’s annual contract gives the school board the power to fire her.

The contract, obtained from the school system in a Public Information Act request from WYPR, states the chief auditor serves “as an at-will employee, who serves at the exclusive pleasure of the board.”

The contract also states that Barr has a right to appeal her termination. She has done so to the Maryland State Board of Education.

Barr is asking the state board to oversee a new vote to renew her contract.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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