Under fire, Ely calls cops, justifies self

Schenectady school Superintendent Eric Ely, the kind of public official that the press likes to call

Schenectady school Superintendent Eric Ely, the kind of public official that the press likes to call “embattled,” has gone into defensive posture, that’s for sure.

The first thing he did was call the cops to be on hand for last Monday’s budget meeting of the school board, which is something I had never heard of before in my years of observing local government.

Call the cops! Why? Because at the previous meeting of the school board, five days earlier, one speaker during the public comment period had denounced him and demanded that he resign, while another had marched forward, out of order, and presented a petition to the board president asking that he be suspended.

The board president, Maxine Brisport, tried to silence the speaker, citing her own rule against personal attacks, but without success. The speaker kept on speaking, and during the half minute or so of one talking over the other, and the petitioner presenting his petition, Superintendent Ely got up and walked out, much as the Isreali ambassador might walk out of a General Assembly debate when he hears his country villified.

There had been no threat of violence nor any physical tumult whatsoever. The vehement speaker was a middle-aged woman reading from a prepared statement, who used her allotted two or three minutes and sat down. The petitioner was an elderly gentleman who is running for the school board in next month’s election and who likewise sat down peaceably.

Nevertheless, on Monday at 5:42 p.m., which is to say about an hour and a quarter before the start of the budget meeting, Ely sent the following e-mail to members of the board:

“I have arranged for a police officer to attend the board meeting tonight. I suspect the board would prefer to maintain order after the last meeting. I would also expect that the board has planned an approach to take should public comment once again turn to slander of an employee or a board member. Eric.”

Well, saints preserve us. A cop to maintain order in case — what? In case someone denounces Ely and demands his resignation again? In case someone presents a petition asking that he be suspended? In case someone ignores the president’s request to eschew personal attacks and keeps reading from a prepared statement?

I can just see an armed, shaved-headed Schenectady cop wrestling Barbara Stapf and Robert Barnes to the floor in Mont Pleasant Middle School, putting cuffs on them, one at a time, and frog-marching them out the door. Charge: slandering the superintendent.

In the event, not one but two cops showed up at the Monday meeting.

Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett tells me they were regular on-duty officers who would have been patrolling the Mont Pleasant area in any case, so there was no overtime involved, and if anything important had happened out in the streets, they would have been pulled.

He says the call came to the department from Assistant Superintendent Bill Roberts, was fielded by Assistant Chief Jack Falvo, who referred it to Patrick Leguire, head of the uniformed division, who in turn assigned the two patrol officers, who stayed at the school only from 7:11 to 7:58 p.m., when the public comment period ended without insult or injury.

As for where the superintendent got off taking such an initiative, I will leave that to the board itself to consider. It was after all their meeting, not the superintendent’s. I would think if anyone was going to request security it would be the board itself.

Anyway that’s one thing, as far as being defensive goes. Another is the five-page e-mail that Ely sent late Tuesday afternoon to school staff justifying himself in the manner of a deposed sovereign on his way to the gallows.

“I continue to believe that our district has taken many positive steps over the last five years that have been largely ignored in favor of inflammatory rhetoric and political posturing,” he wrote. “I have been maligned and attacked repeatedly, both personally and professionally … our positive moves continue to be ignored.”

If it were a movie, you could imagine the peasants pelting him with rotten fruit at that point, and shouting, “How about the quarter-sticks! How about the crotch-grabbing! Take that, you blankety-blank!”

Ely made no mention of those little transgressions committed by soul mate Steve Raucci, who is now awaiting sentencing on arson and other counts, but self-protectively listed every accomplishment he could think of during his four-plus years as superintendent.

Everything from “vertical teaming” to “second generation District Strategic Plan” to saving “over $3 million in energy usage,” despite that last claim’s having been discredited by testimony in Raucci’s trial.

Also a rise in certain student test scores.

He modestly allowed that “perfection was meant for only one Man,” presumably a reference to Jesus of Nazareth, but neglected to mention any of his own earthly imperfections, expressing the hope that one day he will be able to look back and say, “I helped children.”

With that I expected a clergyman to make the sign of the cross over him and the hangman to step forward with noose in hand, but of course this is not a movie, and nothing of the sort happened.

The letter ended on a note at once self-pitying and self-vindicating, making no reference to his good-old-boy relationship with Raucci, and we await the next real-life chapter.

Categories: Opinion

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