It is with some sense of amazement that I write this letter to the people of Manchester.
On Monday, September 25th, the Manchester Board of School Committee did two things that actually made my jaw drop.
As you may know, at-Large board member Nancy Tessier violated policies of the school board, provisions of the city charter and laws of the state when she disclosed the contents of a non-public meeting to the staff members who were the subject of a confidential discussion. That’s not my accusation. It’s the finding of the school district’s lawyer, who conducted an investigation after Tessier leaked the information in an email she sent to the board, which she copied to the staff.
That email, by he way, not only compromised the staff members who were discussed, but also Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas, whom Tessier gratuitously disparaged.
Under the guise of meeting with our attorney, the board had a “non-meeting meeting” on the 25th. It didn’t last long once objections to the discussion of an elected official’s actions were aired. Under state law, elected officials are not allowed to have their actions discussed in non-public session. Moreover, discussion of the confidentiality breach was actually an agenda item for that evening’s meeting.
While I did successfully discuss several of the findings in the letter, an attempt to read a couple of sentences directly from it was objected to on the grounds that information protected by the “attorney client privilege” would first have to be released. While the district’s attorney did say that I could share and summarize the findings in his report, he also said that the board should vote to release the letter as he could not waive the privilege.
Astoundingly, that vote failed, despite the attorney saying the report disclosed no confidential information.
In arguing against releasing the information, it was said that Tessier made a mistake and that the remedies sought, despite none having been proposed, were too harsh. Some argued that, since the board had failed to correct past violations of personnel confidentiality, it would be wrong to do so in this case. One individual even implied that if the board sanctioned Tessier for her egregious breach, it should be ready for others to be accused.
When presented with indisputable evidence that a member of the board, a former principal and assistant superintendent who certainly knew and understood the need and purpose of confidential personnel sessions, violated policy and law, board member’s Sarah Ambrogi (Ward 1), Mary Georges (Ward 3), Leslie Want (Ward 4), Dan Bergeron (Ward 6) Tessier (incredibly, she voted on her own actions), Erika Connors (Ward 8), John Avard (Ward 10), Kate Desrochers (Ward 11) and Connie Van Houten (Ward 12) voted to keep it a secret from the public.
What’s worse, just minutes later, those same nine school board members demonstrated their disregard for the violations when they voted to “receive and file” the agenda item. That means they voted to put Tessier above the law and make it go away.
Once the shock of what happened wore off, I can’t say I was surprised. The same nine, plus Ross Terrio (Ward 7), who was the one who objected to my reading from the letter, also voted against my motions to eliminate taxpayer provided health benefits for board members. Several of them, Ambrogi, Georges, Want, Bergeron, Connors, Avard, Desrochers and Van Houten take either the health or dental benefits or both, despite voting to cut expenses for student supplies, building cleaning, maintenance and repairs, and even teaching staff.
Fortunately, these self-serving politicians have cast their votes in the midst of an election; an election that could very well determine whether or not the changes this district desperately needs to make will be made. While each has an opponent, and some opponents are stronger than others, it is my hope that members of the general public will understand these examples of self-service are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and cast their ballots accordingly.
There’s more to this story and it’s a story that will go from really bad to much worse if you let them get away with it yet again.