Last night’s Southbridge school committee meeting was dominated by the appearance of Attorney Kimberly Rozak.
She was present to address two matters: the complaint filed by a citizen regarding a perceived violation of the committee’s policy on conduct and the publication of the arbitration report relating to the case of Jonathan Jacobson.
I will leave it to the citizen who filed the complaint to address Attorney Rozak’s remarks concerning that matter. She is certainly welcome to submit a statement of her views to The O’Zone.
I will, however, address the attorney’s remarks relating to the publication of the Jacobson report. She said that such decisions and awards are not public records. I find that somewhat confusing insofar as the Massachusetts Department of Education maintains a site that reports and regularly updates such information.
Further, I cannot find any specific statutory exemption for arbitration proceedings in that element of Massachusetts General Laws that defines such exemptions.
I suppose that the one area that might restrict the public access to this report would be the privacy exemption as it relates to personnel records. However, the applicability of that clause was clarified in the case WORCESTER TELEGRAM & GAZETTE CORPORATION vs. CHIEF OF POLICE OF WORCESTER & another. In that particular case the Massachusetts Appeals Court found that the report of an internal affairs investigation within the Worcester Police Department was not exempt from the public records law. The court distinguished between actual personnel records per se and personnel matters that arose in the course of investigation into internal conduct. Specifically the court stated The formalized nature and unique purpose of the internal affairs citizen complaint process serve to distinguish this case from Wakefield, supra, in which the court determined a disciplinary decision and report of a school superintendent regarding a public school teacher to be exempt "personnel [file] or information." …. It would be odd, indeed, to shield from the light of public scrutiny as "personnel [file] or information" the workings and determinations of a process whose quintessential purpose is to inspire public confidence. Accordingly, we consider the officers' reports, the witness interview summaries, and the internal affairs report itself to be substantially different from the single, integrated report held to be "personnel [file] or information" in Wakefield. The nature and character of these materials, and the context in which they arise, take them beyond what the legislature contemplated when exempting "personnel [file] or information."
Now I will candidly admit that I am not an attorney. However, it seems to me that the elements of the Jacobson arbitration decision are more akin to the latter case. It was not in fact a disciplinary proceeding, so it did not even go as far as the above case. But it did relate quite clearly to a process designed to inspire public confidence.
Now I am sure that attorneys could litigate this matter until the cows come home. But to imply that the publication of this report was clearly illegal or irresponsible is, I think, somewhat gratuitous.
As far as the source of the report I can state categorically that I do not know who sent it to me. It came under a pseudonym and I have not sought to determine the source. I did, however, verify its authenticity subsequent to its receipt.
One final matter I wish to address is Attorney Rozak’s remark that the release of the information was unfair because the school principal was not allowed to defend himself. Attorney Rozak says that she was the person who represented the school committee in this matter. It is my understanding that the principal was not present on the advice of counsel. If this is the case, then it is, in my opinion, beyond disingenuous to claim that he was not allowed to defend himself when it was his attorney who advised him not to do so.
Here's the video of the meeting courtesy of Amelia Peloquin and The Greater Southbridge Project (The attorney's presentation begins at the 46 minute mark)