To the public demanding to know why the school superintendent is leaving early and four other administrators have been fired, suspended or transferred, the Jordan-Elbridge school board replies: None of your business.

However, a state Supreme Court Judge Donald A. Greenwood has ruled the district has violated state Freedom of Information Law when it refused to release Superintendent Marilyn J. Dominick’s severance agreement.

In an unusual move, he ordered the district to pay plaintiff William Hamilton’s legal fees of $2,500. The district is considering an appeal.

Greenwald is hearing a second lawsuit alleging the violation of the state Open Meetings Law in appointment of an interim superintendent.

Hamilton, the district’s business manager has been suspended with pay. The second suit was bought by David Zehner, the high school principal who also was suspended with pay. Both men were paid more than $100,000 in 2009, according to SeeThroughNY.

Here’s a brief background about the controversy that is roiling the 1,600-student school district located between Syracuse and Auburn:

  • Despite public clamor, the district refuses to explain reasons for its extraordinary house cleaning: forcing out the superintendent 18 months before her contract expires; suspending Hamilton and Zehner; firing the district treasurer; and reassigning a school principal.
  • When Hamilton filed a FOIL request seeking Dominick’s severance deal, she rejected it on the grounds of her own personal privacy.
  • A mailing to school district residents in July announced had been appointed interim superintendent effective November 1, but there is no record the school board ratified such action in a public meeting.

In his FOIL decision, Greenwood wrote:

“Dominick’s desire to keep the reason for her retirement and value of her severance package secret is not a sufficient basis under the Freedom of Information Law to deny the subject FOIL request.”

He also found that the severance agreement included no confidentiality agreement as the district alleged.

“In any event, this Court would not be bound by a confidentiality agreement and must make its own determination regarding disclosure.”

Greenwood’s full decision can be found here at the end of the news article.

On Wednesday, Greenwood heard arguments from Frank Miller, a school district attorney, who said reportshis explanation:

“They got their public relations out ahead of the formal board action,” the district’s lawyer, Frank Miller, said after the proceeding. “That’s what we said in our affidavit. We didn’t pull any punches about it…. There’s been no formal appointment.”

A third legal issue is raised by the school board’s actions. Danny Mevec, a second district lawyer, saysstate education law prohibits school board members from publicly discussing disciplinary action against school employees.

“The myth of confidentiality is just that, a myth,” said Bob Freeman, executive director of the state Department of State’s Committee on Open Government. “It’s crap.”

(snip)

School Superintendent Marilyn Dominick and board President Mary Alley both have said they cannot discuss personnel matters handled by the board in executive session.“There’s no law that says that,” Freeman countered. “What they’re saying is we choose not to talk about it.”

Freeman said that the word “personnel” never appears in the state’s open meeting law. The only things the board cannot discuss, he said, are matters that would identify a specific student or things that are specifically prohibited by law.

“These other things are not inherently confidential,” he said.

In an editorial, the Syracuse Post-Standard commented on the Freedom of Information Law:

There are no exceptions in the law that allow a district to hide when this kind of upheaval is visited upon its schools. The potential for personal embarrassment or the revelation of unpleasant facts often tempts public officials to keep public business private. That’s precisely why laws are written to compel disclosure, unless certain harm under particular conditions, as spelled out clearly in the law, can result.

Originally Published: NY Public Payroll Watch, September 30, 2010

You may also like

Meanwhile, on the mandate relief front

Governor Cuomo’s 2012-13 budget, to be presented later today, will command media attention for the rest of the week. Advance reports on his modified pension reform proposal are especially promising. Meanwhile, there’s a (fiscally) cost-free approach to helping local governments and school districts alleviate their budget problems: repealing the Triborough Amendment. Read More

Legislature rejects union arbitration cap

Governor Cuomo’s proposal to cap arbitration awards for police and firefighters is not included in the Senate or Assembly budget bills. This may be blessing in disguise: as argued here, Cuomo’s original proposal didn’t go nearly far enough. Since the arbitration law expires on June 30, the governor remains in a commanding position to demand more. Read More

Labor costs rose faster in public sector in ‘09

Employee compensation in the state and local government sector increased at twice the private-sector rate during the 12 months ending in December, according to national data released todayby the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Read More

Getting Triborough wrong

“Mandate relief remains elusive,” is one of the state-related headlines in today’s Albany Times Union — and that much, at least, is true. Unfortunately, the articlebeneath the headline repeats a familiar canard about the origins of the Triborough Amendment. Read More

Persuading co-workers to retire

Oneida County employees participating in a proposed cash buyout program would have a strong incentive to get their co-workers to join them: their payments will increase if more employees participate. Read More

Examining MDs

Should physicians, who are licensed by the state of New York, be required to take a civil service exam in order to work for the state of New York? A state judge thinks so, but that's unlikely to be the last word on the controversy. Read More

Teaching without contracts

As schools open, the number of school districts at impasse with teacher unions has increased by 12 percent since a year ago, according to the Public Employment Relations Board. Also noteworthy--although not emphasized by PERB--nearly one out of three school districts has yet to negotiate a new contract with its teachers. Read More

Car 54, where are you?

New York City will track the whereabouts of its 379 building inspectors with GPS technology installed, not in their city-issued vehicles, but in their cell phones. Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100

General Inquiries: Info@EmpireCenter.org

Press Inquiries: Press@EmpireCenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

Empire Center Logo Enjoying our work? Sign up for email alerts on our latest news and research.
Together, we can make New York a better place to live and work!