Raucci report overpriced at $13,000

Well, the Schenectady school board unexpectedly released the long-suppressed report into the doings

Well, the Schenectady school board unexpectedly released the long-suppressed report into the doings of Steve Raucci yesterday, and you have to see it to believe it.

There is almost nothing in it, at least nothing of value.

It is without a doubt the most vapid, the most hollow such report I have ever seen, and the funny thing is, after all the fighting over keeping it secret, it largely exonerates the school board members and the school administration.

What in the world did they think they were suppressing these past 10 months? They could have released it last June and taken a bow.

As far as revelations go concerning Raucci’s workplace misconduct, and the administration’s knowledge or lack of knowledge of such misconduct, which is the alleged subject of the report, we learned much more from the recently concluded trial than is contained in this frivolous document.

Yet the school board resisted all our Freedom of Information requests and even went to court — successfully — to keep it out of our hands.

Now, after prevailing in that battle, the board releases it — somebody slipping a copy first to the Times Union before the thing was posted on the school district’s Web site.

I can’t walk you through the whole thing, but the gist of it is, yes, Steve Raucci engaged in certain improprieties on the job, like threatening employees, falsifying time sheets, and the like, but no, the school administration and the school board were not at fault, except in the minor matter of conflating their official duties with partisan election efforts, which is not something to blow a gasket about.

Only three complaints were ever filed about Raucci’s behavior and all three were “investigated thoroughly and in a timely manner,” the hired sleuth, Rachel Rissetto, reported.

How did she arrive at this fascinating conclusion? By interviewing 35 past and present employees, from the superintendent on down, and by reviewing many, many documents, including more than 10,000 e-mails, which you have to agree is a lot of e-mails.

She did not interview two of the three people who filed formal complaints against Raucci, as she made a determination, she says, to exclude anyone who had a lawsuit pending against the school district. She doesn’t explain the reason for that, beyond saying it would have been “inappropriate,” and it seems to me a large omission. If I wanted to investigate a crime, or the complaint of a crime, the first person I would want to talk to would be the victim, or the complainant.

But if you want omissions, that’s just the beginning. She did not talk to the people who were most aggrieved, the people who were most harassed by Steve Raucci and who had their houses and their vehicles vandalized by him, but she also apparently did not see or did not pay attention to the e-mails that were most revealing of the relationship between Steve Raucci and Superintendent Eric Ely and other top administrators.

Here is a partial list of what is NOT in the findings of this supposedly red-hot report:

The bizarre e-mails that Raucci sent to Gary DiNola, athletic director, over DiNola’s attempt to get access to buildings for his coaches in 2006. “You have crossed a line with me,” Raucci wrote. “I am not a tolerant person to begin with. I’m even less tolerant of people who show me disrespect,” and so forth.

Far from trying to hide these threatening messages, Raucci actually sent copies of them to Superintendent Ely, just to keep him in the loop, I guess.

Ely’s response when DiNola asked for help, which was, “Work through Steve.”

Any mention of DiNola’s complaint to Ely when his car was vandalized, and Ely’s purported response that it was a police matter, not a school matter.

The e-mail from Ely to Raucci saying, “You stay just the way you are,” after board President Jeff Janiszewski urged Raucci to loosen up.

Any mention of the workers compensation claim won by custodial supervisor Ron Kriss in 2006, which supported his claim to harassment by Raucci. This is documentary evidence that had to be in the hands of the school administration.

The e-mail from Ely to Raucci on Feb. 16, 2009, just before Raucci was arrested, saying, “There aren’t many I trust. You are one. Thank you,” which might suggest to a sleuth with her eyes open that Ely trusted Raucci despite the evidence that Raucci was a nut case.

The e-mail from Raucci to Ely, dated Sept. 4, 2008, that began, “I have often told you that you and I are alike me [sic] in many ways,” and went on, “When I don’t like someone I force them to go away or make them disappear. When you don’t like someone, you have to wait until they die of old age (unless you give me their name),” slyly suggesting he could get rid of Ely’s enemies for him, which is an interesting thing for a utility worker to suggest to a superintendent of schools.

Any reference to the caravan of employees that Raucci led to Burnt Hills in 2005 to observe the damage he had wreaked on the home of Hal and Deborah Gray, after which he was called in to the office of Assistant Superintendent Michael San Angelo and given a “slap on the wrist,” as he told his secretary.

Any reference to the administration helpfully giving Barbara Tidball, an attractive custodial worker, the bogus title of “messenger” to be Raucci’s secretary, thus avoiding a Civil Service test.

Any reference to the administration conniving with Raucci in the firing of two plumbers who had angered him, passing their departure off to the school board as a resignation based on “personal reasons,” then re-creating their two jobs and hiring other people to fill them, which might suggest to a skeptical observer an especially cozy relationship between Raucci and the administration.

The presentation to Raucci by the human resources director, Michael Stricos, of a framed photo of Marlon Brando as the Godfather, which might also suggest a cozy relationship and one based on something other than the “concern for kids” which school officials are always carrying on about.

The e-mail from Raucci to Stricos regarding an exchange with Raucci’s assistant: “God help both of you if I find out that you are communicating using some sort of communication in private or that I cannot decipher … even God would not be able to help … Mr. Gray and Mr. Kriss [two employees whose property Raucci had vandalized] would probably be able to tell you that it could extend beyond just job related,” which might suggest to someone not under chloroform that Raucci was actually boasting about his terrorizing of people.

And finally — drumroll, please — the e-mail of July 28, 2008, in which Ely gave Raucci a “heads up” on the criminal investigation of him.

Rachel Rissetto, human resources director of a BOCES up north and a professional colleague of the Schenectady school attorney, Shari Greenleaf, which is how she got this investigative gig, reviewed 10,000 e-mails, but she overlooked those, or else she read them and didn’t think them significant.

What is the only e-mail out of the whole lot that she thought significant enough to quote, and to quote not once but twice, once in bold-face italics?

It was one from the godfather of the school board, Jeff Janiszewski, written to Raucci in 2006, regarding the use of Raucci’s workers to stuff envelopes and man phone banks for Janiszewski’s election campaigns: “People are only to work on campaigns on their own time. Whether it’s after work or on personal leave, it’s their time and they may invest it as they choose so long as nobody is putting pressure on them.”

This is an e-mail that any seasoned bureaucrat would immediately recognize as a CYA memo, as it’s officially known, that is, one written for the record, to cover one’s hind end.

Rachel Rissetto waves it like a flag, obviously happy to have it.

She innocently accepts that, and she innocently accepts that the school administration didn’t know what was going on with Raucci’s bullying, because, by golly, on one occasion when they investigated a complaint, Raucci intimidated his workers into lying to protect him, so how could they have known? “When employees fail to be truthful, for whatever reason, the investigative process is compromised.”

So, too bad.

Alas, in the situation she was talking about, District Attorney Bob Carney assures me the employees’ original, truthful statements were preserved. He obtained them for Raucci’s trial, so she could have obtained them too if she had been bent on a genuine investigation instead of a whitewash.

The administration didn’t know what Raucci was doing?

Carney says, “She ignores the argument that the administration wanted it that way because the administration benefited from Raucci’s rule.”

They had every reason to know what was going on, but they looked the other way because Raucci helped them win elections and he suppressed labor grievances. He was their boy.

In my opinion, if a new school board gets elected in Schenectady, they ought to ask Rachel Rissetto to return the $13,000 she got paid for this report. By my calculation it’s worth about $1.75.

In the end, however, I believe the joke is on Judge Barry Kramer. He ruled a few months ago the report was so sensitive that the school board was fully justified in suppressing it, and he did so without even reading it, thereby setting a precedent in judicial clairvoyance.

But alas, it’s not sensitive at all. It’s a superficial and gullible review of some facts that redound to the benefit of the school administration and a breezy avoidance of facts that don’t.

I was one of those who originally filed a Freedom of Information request for it, but if I had known what was going to be in it, I wouldn’t have bothered.

Categories: Opinion

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