, Newburyport, MA


January 23, 2008

Coach hire draws ethics complaint; Cheerleader parents see nepotism in giving job to AD's daughter

BYFIELD - Several parents of Triton cheerleaders confirmed yesterday that at least one parent has filed a complaint with the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, asking it to probe the hiring of Erin Dempsey, daughter of Triton Athletic Director David Dempsey, as cheerleading coach.

Erin Dempsey was hired on Dec. 6 to replace Kristen Almquist, who had coached the team for five seasons. Almquist said David Dempsey met with her on Nov. 20 and told her that her leadership qualities had been called into question by at least one parent and that he would not be renewing her contract.

Neither Dempsey nor High School Principal Kevin McLaughlin have gone public with the reasons for the coaching change, citing a school policy of not discussing personnel matters. Almquist said she was never told why she was fired.

The person filing the complaint was not identified. However, Bill Levasseur, a parent of high school students who has been vocal on the school's recent coaching changes, characterized the hiring of the athletic director's daughter as nepotism and a conflict of interest.

The state Ethics Commission, as a standing policy, will not confirm or deny it is conducting an investigation. It will only acknowledge an investigation took place if it finds state ethics laws have been broken.

State ethics laws say that public employees, in general, may not "hire, promote, supervise, or otherwise participate in the employment of your immediate family member."

In an interview with The Daily News, McLaughlin accepted responsibility for all hirings and firings of Triton athletic coaches. He said, if given the opportunity, he would not change anything about the way the administration handled the issue.

"I'm disappointed with the reaction in a sense that it was not part of a conversation anyone had with me," McLaughlin said, referring to the ethics complaint. "I don't know who filed the complaint, so I can't speak further on it."

Almquist's departure brought strong protests from the cheerleading squad. Upon hearing the news of Almquist's departure prior to her last school commitment - the Thanksgiving Day football game - the Triton cheerleading parents started a petition to have her reinstated. The Triton cheerleaders also held a silent protest at halftime of the Thanksgiving game rather than performing their regular routine.

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