Something was afoot.
School Attorney Shari Greenleaf sent an email to Facilities Manager Steve Raucci and carbon-copied school board clerk Dick Yager.
Raucci wrote back. After a flurry of emails, Superintendent Eric Ely entered the conversation. Then Assistant Superintendent Michael San Angelo joined in, too.
But the entire conversation, released by the school district as part of a settlement of a lawsuit, was blacked out by Greenleaf. Even the date stamps on the emails were redacted.
The district blacked out 76 emails, as well as what appeared to be a letter from Raucci that was 11⁄2 pages long.
It is the most significant redaction so far in The Daily Gazette’s review of the emails released by the district. The Gazette and the Albany Times Union sued for the records after the school district redacted nearly every word in a 190-page report about Raucci. The district had hired an outside investigator to determine whether administrators knew that Raucci was intimidating and threatening employees and had placed explosives on some cars and homes. The report was commissioned after Raucci was charged with setting explosives. He has since been convicted and is serving out his sentence in prison.
The district agreed to settle the lawsuit and released every email written by or sent to Raucci since he became facilities manager. But the district released only paper copies of the emails, leaving reporters to sift through more than 11,000 pages.
The settlement included a method for challenging redactions. Superintendent John Yagielski said that since there is a way to challenge the redactions, he would not discuss redactions in any way — even to simply say why the redaction was made.
In other emails, the reason was clear: names of parents and neighbors were blacked out, as well as home phone numbers and addresses. On several occasions, the name of an employee accused of misconduct was also hidden. Such personnel matters can be redacted under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
But in this case, even the subject of the emails was redacted, making it impossible to determine whether it fell under one of the very few allowable reasons for redactions under the law.
Other emails reviewed Tuesday offered a glimpse into Raucci’s union work.
He threatened to remove his union’s support for the budget and the upcoming school board election because then-Board of Education President Jeff Janiszewski wouldn’t support him in a seemingly minor matter of whether to accept donated furniture from GE.
“I have never chosen a hill to die on with you or anyone else in the district, until now,” Raucci wrote to Janiszewski in 2007. “I’m ready to go to war over this.”
In a follow-up email, he explained what he meant by a “war.”
“I met with four people who lived through the ‘war years’ … day to day clashes that resulted in 94 grievances in a four-year period before I took office as unit president,” he wrote.
He also wrote that he’d made the same comment to Superintendent Eric Ely, who gave in.
“He spoke to me in a way I was not expecting nor would have ever thought a Superintendent would,” Raucci wrote. “It may not have been said verbatim to me, but Eric gave me a sense that he would deal with anyone that affected the team concept we all worked so hard to establish with my department and Central Administration.”
During Raucci’s time as president of the CSEA unit representing the workers he supervised, no grievances were filed. Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney alleged during Raucci’s criminal trial that school administrators were willing to overlook Raucci’s misbehavior because he quelled labor grievances.
Raucci openly boasted about his ability to stop grievances from being filed, which he said made him valuable to the administration.
In another set of emails, he told new union leader Steven Boynton to follow his lead and work with the administration instead of fighting for his union members, mainly school principals and other managers.
“Forget, the strictly by the rule book. It will only cause you grief,” Raucci wrote in 2007, adding that Boynton would waste his time if he insisted on following “bylaws, rules and regulations.”
Instead, Raucci said, he would help Boynton prevent grievances from being filed.
“Remember what I said, I’m the experienced veteran and I have a perfect unblemished record [of no grievances],” he wrote.
Raucci also wrote to Katy Vacca when she became president of the secretaries and nurses’ union and pushed her to get her members to campaign for school board members.
“The secretaries unit has participated but not to the extent of Fund raisers, pounding the pavement or going door to door,” he wrote.
He said that if she could get her members to campaign, he would work with her on union issues.