Judge says Baltimore County schools chief auditor can keep her job
A Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge ruled Thursday that the school system’s chief auditor, Andrea Barr, can keep her job while litigation connected to her firing by the school board plays out.
Judge Sherrie Bailey said she is “quite concerned” by the allegations that board members retaliated against Barr for not doing their bidding.
By granting the preliminary injunction, Judge Bailey rejected arguments by the school board’s attorneys that there was no evidence that board members had retaliated against the chief auditor.
Barr testified Wednesday that board members Kathleen Causey and Russ Kuehn asked her to do unethical and improper actions by interfering on their behalf in an outside audit of the school system. She told the judge she had been threatened with her job.
“There is some concerning information,” Bailey said. “There is absolutely no harm granting a preliminary injunction.”
Following the judge’s decision, Barr’s attorney, Kathleen Cahill, said, “Ms. Barr is very relieved and thrilled to have been provided the right to continue her exceptional career, to work hard for what is right, and without threat of unlawful retaliation.”
The school board’s attorneys had no comment.
Once court adjourned, Barr hugged Cahill and gave members of her staff in the courtroom a thumbs up sign.
During Thursday’s closing statements, Craig Meuser, one of the attorneys for the school board said Barr’s claim of retaliation relied on “inference and supposition.” He questioned why Cahill did not subpoena key board members to testify, such as Causey or the current chair, Julie Henn.
Asked about that after the hearing Cahill said, “We knew we had the evidence we needed.”
Also at issue is how Barr’s annual contract was terminated in May by the board. Six out of 11 board members present voted yes. The others, including Causey, Kuehn and Henn, either abstained or recused themselves.
Traditionally it has taken seven votes to pass a motion so the contract was terminated.
Meuser said a 2020 Maryland State Board of Education advisory opinion agreed with the seven vote threshold.
“The state board of education has the final word in determining education law.” Meuser told the judge.
Cahill challenged that, saying that advisory opinion does not apply in this case and was not signed by any attorneys.
Cahill in turn questioned in court why Meuser never brought up how Barr’s annual contract had been approved.
In past years, the school superintendent and the board chair signed off on it. That changed in 2020 when Causey was chair and brought it to the board for a vote. That year there were seven votes to renew it.
In 2021, a new chair, Makeda Scott and Superintendent Darryl Williams signed Barr’s contract with no board vote,
On May 17 of this year Henn, who is now the chair, again brought it before the board. This time, because there was a vacancy on the board, Barr received only six votes.
Cahill said Henn “weaponized” the May 17 vote.
Henn did not respond to a request for comment. In the past she has declined, saying it is a personnel matter.
Cahill said the handling of Barr’s renewal contracts was highly irregular and that the school board’s attorneys “did not say one word about the manipulation of the renewal contracts.
“They cannot answer that,” Cahill said.
Besides her lawsuit, Barr has appealed her contract termination to the State Board of Education. She is asking the board to oversee a “lawfully conducted vote” on her contract.
Cahill said, “Now we will assess our next steps and watch for what comes next from the rogue minority of the board.”