The problem with government bodies keeping secrets from the public is that those secrets often eventually get exposed. And then the officials who perpetuated the secrecy have to go back and deal with whatever matters they were trying to cover up in the first place.
So it is with the Schenectady school board and its secret agreement with former Superintendent Larry Springs to have him resign last year without disclosing the reasons for his resignation or the terms.
We chastised the district on several occasions for signing a non-disclosure agreement, in which both sides agreed to keep their mouths shut about the resignation in exchange for everybody keeping their lawyers on a leash.
But that exploded back in May, when a law firm’s report to the school board became public. The report alleged sexual harassment by Spring.
Then earlier this month, Spring filed a notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, seeking $7.8 million from the district for allegedly coercing him into resigning, not allowing him to defend himself against what he claims are false allegations, and for violating the non-disclosure deal.
If the school district had dealt with this matter honestly and openly back then, it might not be finding itself on the wrong end of a multi-million-dollar lawsuit today.
We might already know the facts behind the sexual harassment allegations and the real reasons why Spring left the district.
Spring, if guilty, would have been held accountable for his actions instead of being allowed to slink away with a taxpayer-funded severance package.
With all this conflicting and potentially embarrassing information now out in the open, district officials might be inclined to grab their broom and sweep this all back under the rug by settling out of court and signing another nondisclosure agreement.
That would be the absolute wrong approach – for the district, for the public and for the alleged victims of Spring’s actions.
If the district had a legitimate reason to force Spring’s resignation, it should be prepared to defend the lawsuit in open court. Let the facts and evidence finally come out, as they should have a year ago.
Going to court will also be fair to Spring, letting him present the evidence he says will clear his name. If he was indeed railroaded out of a job without due process, then he’s entitled to a big payday.
Yes, there will be legal fees. But those should be absorbed in part by insurance.
And yes, maybe some board members may be embarrassed if any communications come to light linking them in some kind of conspiracy to railroad Spring out of town. But the threat of embarrassment isn’t a legal justification for secrecy.
In covering up the harassment allegations and then covering up the cover-up, the school board let the people down.
Board members have a chance to make this right, to some degree, by defending themselves against the lawsuit.
Secrecy is never the best public policy.
There’s no clearer demonstration of that than the way the Schenectady school board handled this situation from Day 1.