AMESBURY — An investigative report on school district emails leaked by the former mayoral administration to The Daily News last spring concluded the release was done so in the public’s best interest.
The report also found that the School Committee member who requested the investigation spent three years targeting an assistant vice principal for termination.
On May 6, then-School Committee member Gretchen Marinopoulos asked the committee to back an investigation to determine who in former Mayor Ken Gray's office leaked her emails to the newspaper after she made a successful motion to eliminate a part-time assistant principal position at the high school in April.
The request stemmed from a series of Daily News stories that showed a three-year history of conflict between Marinopoulos and Amesbury High School Vice Principal/Athletic Director Glenn Gearin after Marinopoulos' son was cut from the varsity boys soccer team in 2016.
The committee unanimously approved Marinopoulos’ request and attorney Regina Ryan of Discrimination and Harassment Solutions LLC of West Falmouth was hired to investigate. The investigation and final report cost the district $8,200 for 32.8 hours of work.
Although Ryan’s 24-page report was dated Aug. 12, the results obtained by The Daily News under a state Public Records Law request late last year were so heavily redacted that almost no words could be discerned.
Richard K. Lodge, editor of The Daily News, appealed to Supervisor of Public Records Rebecca Murray, who ordered on Feb. 14 that the school district must release an unredacted copy of the report. Braintree-based law firm Murphy, Lamere & Murphy represents the school district and sent the report to the The Daily News on Feb. 28.
The latest version of the report includes 27 redactions, all of which appear to be names or dates. Ryan said she received statements from or interviewed eight people as part of her investigation. She also said she relied on 24 documents or videos in reaching her conclusions.
Ryan’s 24-page report begins in August 2016 when Marinopoulos sent an email to varsity boys soccer coach Luke Alley, asking him to reconsider his decision to cut her son from the team.
Alley shared the email with his supervisor, Gearin, who also forwarded it to then-Superintendent Gary Reese and high school Principal Elizabeth McAndrews.
Gearin told Marinopoulos he would not reverse his coach’s decision. McAndrews told Marinopoulos the same thing and the committee member emailed Reese to voice her concerns about Gearin and McAndrews.
Ryan’s report also details a 24-month period beginning in October 2016 when Marinopoulos sent Gearin multiple emails questioning the athletic department's budget and handbook, as well as the number of red cards the boys soccer team had accrued; uniforms; scoreboard repair; cheerleading practice space; athletic participation; the cancellation of the fall sports night in 2017 and 2018; and the participation of seniors on a junior varsity team.
"No other SC member initiated nearly as many email communications with Mr. Gearin as Ms. Marinopoulos did,” Ryan wrote.
Marinopoulos also began questioning Director of Finance and Operations Joan Liporto about the athletic department budget in January 2017.
"Ms. Marinopoulos began to focus an inordinate amount of time on scrutinizing the Athletic Department, including its handling of certain issues as well as its budget,” Ryan wrote in the report. “Of concern is that the only department from whom Ms. Marinopoulos requested financial records or whose policies and handbook she questioned was the Athletic Department."
Ryan's report points out that committee policy states that all official communications, policies and directives of staff interest should be communicated to staff members through the school superintendent.
Marinopoulos told Ryan that she was aware of the policies but believed that she copied the superintendent when emailing Gearin. Ryan's report, however, found that only one email, on March 10, 2016, included such a carbon copy.
Ryan's report also details two occasions in which Marinopoulos attempted to cut Gearin's position.
A pair of motions by Marinopoulos and committee member Deborah LaValley to add a $58,000 therapeutic program to the high school budget by eliminating Gearin’s part-time assistant high school principal and athletic director positions was rejected in April 2017.
But Marinopoulos successfully proposed eliminating the part-time assistant principal position and creating a part-time athletic director position for a savings of $55,256 on April 8, 2019. She resigned from the committee by email the next day at 6:04 a.m.
Marinopoulos told Ryan that she was not targeting Gearin, but was instead seeking a reduction in the administrative staff at the high school and claimed that change could also result in either his or Assistant Principal Danielle Ricci's position being eliminated.
Gray, however, told Ryan that Ricci was employed as a full-time assistant principal and the savings suggested by Marinopoulos matched Gearin's salary exactly – not Ricci’s.
As chairman of the committee at the time, Gray also successfully moved to include the $55,256 necessary to retain Gearin in the school budget, effectively reversing Marinopoulos' motion in May.
Ryan stated she questioned Marinopoulos’ claim that she was not targeting Gearin in 2017 and 2019.
“I find that she was in fact targeting Mr. Gearin,” Ryan wrote.
The report also found that most of the emails released to The Daily News were done so correctly by Liporto in response to a public records request from the newspaper.
But other, redacted emails were given to the newspaper by Evan Kenney, then chief of staff to Gray, who told the investigator he received the emails from a "whistleblower" and that the information they contained could help to prove whether Marinopoulos was acting in a professional or personal capacity.
Gearin admitted to Ryan that he had shared the emails with Kenney in April after consulting with his sister-in-law, an attorney, who told him she believed he was being targeted by Marinopoulos.
Ryan found that Kenney also responded correctly to The Daily News' public records request.
"Mr. Kenney asserts that he balanced the public's right-to-know about the communications between Ms. Marinopoulos and members of the Athletic Department against Ms. Marinopoulos' privacy interest as a public official and he concluded that the public had a right to know," Ryan wrote.
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.
ONLINE EXTRA: Go online to read the investigative report.