Long-simmering divisions among Baltimore County school board members turned into ugly accusations in a county courtroom on Wednesday, with one board member accusing the other of threatening to sue her.

The case involves the board’s failure to renew the contract of its chief auditor, but the focus proved to be on the board’s own dysfunction.

Board member Moalie Jose testified that a colleague, Kathleen Causey, had sent a man to her house threatening a lawsuit if she didn’t apologize to Causey for accusing her of racism. Jose said she was concerned she’d be retaliated against again for testifying Wednesday in the courtroom.

Jose said the man arrived at her house after a school board meeting at which she had come to the defense of the board chair, Makeda Scott, the first Black woman to hold the post. Jose believed she was being attacked by other board members during the open session. Jose recalled saying at the time, “It’s shameful that we would treat the first African American woman chair like this.”

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Jose said Causey, who is white, believed that she was being accused of racism. Jose testified that she did not apologize and that a friend of Causey’s filed an ethics complaint against her. Causey did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

The accusations were made at a preliminary injunction hearing Wednesday in front of Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Sherrie Bailey. She was hearing arguments over whether Andrea Barr, the chief auditor of the Baltimore County Public Schools, could keep her job after the board failed to give her a new contract.

In a May 17 special meeting, six members of the then-11-member board, including the student member, voted to renew Barr’s contract. However, Lily Rowe and Russell Kuehn recused themselves and Causey, board chair Julie Henn and Lisa Mack abstained. Board guidance states seven votes are needed to approve agenda items.

Kathleen Cahill, a lawyer representing Barr, argued that her client received a majority of votes and thus should keep her job. Eric Brousaides, the board’s lawyer, disagreed. He field a motion for dissolution of a temporary restraining order that had been granted Barr, arguing that since the board has 12 seats, seven votes are needed to pass a motion, regardless of whether there is a vacancy. He cited a 2020 advisory opinion from the state board of education and said any other testimony from witnesses called by Cahill was irrelevant.

At the time of the vote, a 12th seat was vacant after Cheryl Pasteur left the board to run for the Maryland House of Delegates. Her school board seat has since been filled, with the appointment of Felicia Stolusky.

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It was Cahill’s argument, however, that resulted in the temporary restraining order that ordered the school board to correct the vote and extend Barr’s contract to June 30, 2023. Barr has continued to work.

Barr previously contended that the decision not to renew her contract followed threats by some school board members to bend to their agendas, audit reviews that showed the system exceeded its budget, and a state investigation that found violations of state and county law.

On Wednesday, Cahill called five witnesses, including Barr. The chief auditor said she’d always received exceptional performance evaluations in the nine years she’d been chief auditor. But she said her job became more difficult when board members Causey and Kuehn joined the audit committee in 2019.

“I always felt that my head was in a guillotine and the blade was raised,” said Barr, who has worked for the district for 36 years.

She testified that Kuehn, the audit committee chair at the time, screamed at her on a conference call involving the three and said her job would be in jeopardy if she didn’t make changes to the audit report so that it didn’t reflect poorly on board members.

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“I was not going to bend,” Barr said.

Barr said Causey and Henn, who were chair and vice chair at the time, were not in compliance with financial disclosure forms.

She also testified that Kuehn and Causey told Barr in a February 2019 meeting they would assign someone to watch over projects at the audit office — a “pit bull” — and threatened her job. Barr recalled Kuehn saying “there is no reason for your office to exist.”

Kuehn did not immediately return a request for comment.

In September 2019, former board member Roger Hayden, who has since died, filed a complaint accusing Causey and Kuehn of bullying Barr. Kuehn and Causey denied the allegation and said they always acted respectfully. The law firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, which conducted the investigation, concluded there was no evidence of a discriminatory motive by board members. However, it did find that Causey and Kuehn appeared “to invade in the purview of the Superintendent of schools, overstep the bounds of his oversight authority, and do not appear to be in compliance with the provisions of the Board Handbook.”

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The following spring, Barr said, was the first time the board voted on her contract renewal. It passed 7-5. The following year, in 2021, her contract was not voted on. Scott was the board chair at the time.

Henn was chair when the board decided to take up the matter this past May. Another school board attorney, Craig Meuser, noted on Wednesday that the board can approve the hiring and firing of the chief auditor.

David Uhlfelder, a school board member from 2008 to 2018, testified that certain “board members came on the board with an absolute agenda.”

Richard Henry, the state’s inspector general of education, testified that he conducted an investigation that confirmed Barr’s findings regarding the board exceeding its budget and violating state law by utilizing outside legal services.

The final witness was Michael Swift, a parliamentarian who was cited in the temporary restraining order that allowed Barr to continue working.

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He testified that the recusals of board members on extending Barr’s contract were improper, and that they shouldn’t be permitted to influence the final vote. For these reasons, he said the 6-0 vote should mean the board passed the renewal of Barr’s contract unanimously.

Pasteur was also a witness and was recorded during a deposition the day before. However, the judge did not allow her deposition to be submitted. Pasteur said in a previous interview, however, that she would have been the seventh vote to renew Barr’s contract on May 17 had she been on the board. She called Barr and her staff thorough. She was shocked when she heard the vote failed, especially when “nothing has ever gone awry.”

The hearing will continue at 11 a.m. Thursday for closing statements.

Members of the county’s school board have been at war with one another for years, fighting over issues ranging from who should be superintendent to what curriculum to purchase. Last year, the board was criticized by its student board member for unseemly behavior. The Office of the Maryland Inspector General has also received numerous complaints about divisions within the board.

Most of the board is expected to turn over by next year due to coming elections and the expiration of the terms of four appointed board members.

Liz Bowie contributed to this report


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