Montgomery County's school board has broken state open meetings laws multiple times in the past several months, according to an independent ethics board.

The state's Open Meetings Compliance Board ruled that the school board was in violation when choosing its next superintendent and, previously, over a contentious decision to turn an organic farm in Potomac into soccer fields.

The school board should not have met behind closed doors to select residents to interview prospective superintendents, the ethics board said in a three-page opinion: "Discussions about whether and how to involve the public in the hiring process implicate policy matters. ... We encourage the county board to unseal and make available for inspection any closed-session minutes, or portions thereof, that pertain to discussions that should have been held in the open."

Montgomery school board President Christopher Barclay did not return calls seeking comment.

While the Open Meetings Compliance Board reigns over ethical breaches in Maryland, it cannot enforce its decisions.

The ruling said it was OK for the citizens committee, once created, to convene behind closed doors. as that did not violate the act. The school board also followed open meetings laws by posting the minutes of each closed-door meeting at its next public meeting.

Paula Bienenfeld, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Civic Federation's education committee, is one of three county residents who filed the complaint earlier this summer. She hasn't heard from the school board since the July 26 ruling.

"I wouldn't hold my breath, because with this particular school board you have to have everything in writing and go after every public document you want," said Bienenfeld, pointing to two other recent rulings of violations. "I think that just goes to show they believe they're running a private business."

In two separate rulings earlier this summer, the compliance board found that Montgomery violated the open meetings laws "in a number of ways" when the school board voted to lease an organic farm and former school site in Potomac to the county government to be turned into ball fields.

The Washington Examiner reported that County Executive Ike Leggett was meeting with a major local soccer group while he pushed the school system to lease the county the land -- years before outraged Potomac residents were given short notice of the move.

In the latest decision, the state ethics board noted the number of violations it has found on Montgomery's school board: "In light of our recent opinion ... we encourage the county board to close its meetings more sparingly."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com