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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Baltimore County school board role, political ambitions clash for one member

Marisol Johnson (Baltimore County Board of Education)

Marisol Johnson (Baltimore County Board of Education)

The vice chair of the Baltimore County school board may have to choose between her role as a member of the Board of Education and her political activities.

Marisol Johnson, vice chair of the Baltimore County Board of Education, will likely have to choose between continuing in that position or giving up her seat on the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee and an expected run for the county council.

Johnson’s current role and her political ambitions, which appear to include a run for the Baltimore County Council, conflict because of a 2014 law that establishes how members of the county’s board of education are selected. That law created a hybrid school board with seven of the 12 members being elected from the county’s council districts.

Johnson did not respond to calls or an email seeking comment.

School officials were also not immediately available for comment.

Robbie Leonard, past chair of the central committee, said he became aware of the legal conflict late last week after reviewing a 2014 law creating the county’s hybrid elected-appointed school board.

“It looked accurate,” Leonard said. “I had a discussion with Marisol on Friday. She will either be resigning from the central committee or the school board soon.”

“This is an issue that we’ve never come across before,” Leonard said.

Johnson was appointed to the board in 2015 and rose to become its vice chair, a position she currently holds.

A year later, she was appointed to the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee to fill a vacancy created by the departure of Shelly Morhaim, the wife of Del. Dan Morhaim.

Johnson also appears to be gearing up for a run for the Baltimore County Council. She has established a campaign account, which allows her to begin raising and spending money on behalf of a campaign. And while she has not formally filed, Johnson is identified on the website of Emerge Maryland as a candidate for the council position that is expected to open when current Councilwoman Vicki Almond runs for Baltimore County Executive.

Emerge Maryland is an organization that trains women to run as Democrats for political office. Johnson is a 2017 graduate of that training, according to the website.

And while the creation of a campaign account does not make her a formal candidate, Johnson would run afoul of the law should she file for office while remaining on the board.

“I don’t think it satisfies the statute,” Leonard said of the creation of Johnson’s campaign account. “It will be up to her, if she decided to file and run for office. At that point she will need to resign from one or the other.”

Edward J. Gilliss, chair of the school board and an attorney at Royston, Mueller, McLean and Reid, LLP, said he was also unaware of the provision in the law.

“Now that you’ve brought it to my attention, I will make it a point to ask Ms. Johnson and learn more about it,” said Gilliss.

The 2014 law contains a provision that prohibits members of the school board from holding an elected or appointed government or political office. It also prohibits board members from becoming a candidate for political office.

Authors of the bill included the provision in an attempt to prevent a politicization of the board.

“The role of a school board member is to focus on education, and it is not supposed to be a springboard for political advancement for either party,” said Yara Cheikh, a member of the League of Women Voters Education Committee, which advocated for the hybrid school board bill. “Education should always be nonpartisan.”

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