Yes, we’re suing Sch’dy school district

Well, it took a while, but this newspaper and the Times Union finally filed suit against the Schenec

Well, it took a while, but this newspaper and the Times Union finally filed suit against the Schenectady City School District to get hold of the famous Raucci report, the one that the school district has been at pains to conceal.

Since I am technically one of the plaintiffs, protocol dictates I keep mum about this matter and let it play out in court, and of course I will respect that.

I will merely observe that it’s a great shame it had to come to a lawsuit at all.

You may remember the precipitating event, the arrest 10 months ago of the school district’s buildings-and-ground boss, Steve Raucci, on charges of terrorizing his subordinates and others by planting explosives at their homes and spray painting their houses and vehicles.

It was quite the scandal, and the question naturally arose: How could it have happened? How could Raucci have been carrying on like this, if the charges were true, without being detected?

In an apparent effort to answer these questions — and I emphasize “apparent” — the school board commissioned an investigation, hiring for the purpose a BOCES human resources director. “It’s the board and the superintendent’s sincerest hope that a complete, diligent and transparent investigation, followed by appropriate response, will maintain the community’s confidence in the school district,” the board declared.

But, alas, that turned out to be a charade. When the investigative report was finally submitted to the board in June, then-board-president Jeff Janiszewski first pretended it was not really the report but merely an “update” and then spent more than three hours examining it with his fellow members behind closed doors.

Eventually they said would not release the report itself but only a summary of it, and then they backed away even from that and said they would not release anything.

When a Gazette reporter, a Times Union reporter, and I independently filed Freedom of Information requests for the report, we were turned down. When we appealed, we were turned down again.

When the state Committee on Open Government, however, submitted a formal legal opinion that the factual (as opposed to opinion and recommendation) parts of the report must be made public, the school district did an about-face, sort of, and said, OK, we’ll release it, which however turned out to be another charade, because what they released was 190 pages of black stripes. They blacked out everything but a few innocuous words here and there.

It was perhaps the most brazen defiance of the Freedom of Information Law I have seen in my time, though it was very much in keeping with the general attitude and way of doing business of both Janiszewski and Superintendent Eric Ely.

The remedy provided by law is what’s known as an Article 78 proceeding, by which a citizen can challenge an action of government, and that’s what we’re pursuing. We’re asking that a judge read the report and overturn the school district’s denial of it, including the estimated 10,000 e-mails that the investigator read.

My own guess, based on the few e-mails that I managed to get my hands on, is that’s where the good stuff will be. That’s where we will see the cozy relationship between Raucci and Superintendent Ely, and that’s where we will understand how Raucci was able to impose a reign of terror without fear of being brought to book.

I think it’s for good reason that Ely and Janiszewski, with the advice and counsel of their house lawyer, Shari Greenleaf, want to keep those e-mails out of the public’s hands.

Categories: Opinion

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