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What you need to know for 09/24/2017

Newspapers file lawsuit seeking Raucci report

Newspapers file lawsuit seeking Raucci report

The Daily Gazette and Times Union sued the Schenectady City School District Thursday, demanding more

The Daily Gazette and Times Union sued the Schenectady City School District Thursday, demanding more information from an investigation the school district commissioned on whether district officials knew about allegations that Steven Raucci harassed and intimidated fellow employees and what, if anything, they did about it.

Raucci was head utility worker and Civil Service Employees Association unit president at the school district when he was arrested on Feb. 20 on an arson charge. He was subsequently charged with additional counts of arson and with terrorism for allegedly planting explosive devices at the homes and on vehicles of people he considered his enemy. No one was injured in the four explosions that resulted, authorities said.

To view the redacted version of the Steven Raucci report released in October by the Schenectady City School District, click HERE.

Before and after Raucci’s arrest, a series of lawsuits was filed against the school district by his alleged victims, claiming school officials knew of his intimidation activities but did nothing to stop them.

The school district subsequently commissioned an independent investigation into Raucci’s activities on the job and into whether his higher-ups knew of and condoned, or failed to act, on those activities. The school district at first said it would release the report from the investigation, then declined to release it, and later released a report whose pages were almost entirely blacked out.

To read documents associated with the lawsuit, click HERE and HERE.

The Article 78 proceeding, filed Thursday afternoon in state Supreme Court in Schenectady County, asks a judge to read the entire report and determine whether more of it should be released to comply with the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

Calling the release of the redacted report a “sham,” the lawsuit alleges the district failed to satisfy its obligations under FOIL by releasing the 192-page report with all but a few innocuous sections blacked out.

The newspapers contend that district officials incorrectly invoked exceptions to FOIL as reasons the district didn’t have to release the report.

Those exceptions do not apply to work-related information for public employees, factual data, staff instructions that affect the public or final agency policy, the suit alleges.

“The district’s position — that no factual information, which the district is required to disclose, was removed in any of the myriad wholesale redactions it made when it released a shell of the requested report — simply defies logic,” according to the lawsuit.

District spokeswoman Karen Corona said district officials have not had time to read the filing after getting served the papers Thursday.

“Therefore, we are reserving comment at this time,” she said in an e-mail.

Independent investigator Rachel Rissetto interviewed 35 people, including 18 current or former employees who worked directly with and under the supervision of Raucci. She also reviewed 10,000 e-mails sent to and by Raucci dating back to 2005.

She was paid $100 an hour. Her report cost the school district $13,000.

Gazette reporters Michael Goot and Carl Strock are listed as plaintiffs in the case because they filed FOIL requests seeking the report as well as copies of e-mails between Raucci and other employees and school board members.

The Albany Times Union and reporter Lauren Stanforth joined the Daily Gazette as plaintiffs. Both newspapers appealed denials for information to the school district, as provided for in state law, well before filing the lawsuit.

After initially denying requests to release the investigative report prepared by Rissetto, the district announced it would reconsider releasing the report after receiving an opinion from the state Committee on Open Government that the factual information in the report is public information.

But officials blacked out 90 percent of the report, including names of employees interviewed, content of the interviews, conclusions and recommendations. They also blacked out the content of the e-mails.

“The district has engaged in a systematic and duplicitous campaign to thwart access to the Raucci e-mails and Rissetto report; a report funded with public monies and concerning a matter of legitimate and intense public concern,” the lawsuit states.

The newspapers also requested the court to order the school district to pay for their legal fees in connection with the filing.

The Rissetto report is separate from the criminal investigation of Raucci.

Raucci, 61, of Niskayuna, has been held in jail without bail since his arrest. On Thursday, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court affirmed a county court decision denying Raucci’s application for bail.

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