AMESBURY — The state supervisor of public records has ordered school officials to give unredacted records to The Daily News, including a report the School Committee commissioned last year to determine how emails between a committee member and assistant principal were made public.
After reviewing unredacted copies of the report and related material in her office, Supervisor of Public Records Rebecca Murray determined lawyers for the Amesbury School Department had not justified redacting almost every line of the report.
“The public has a recognized interest in knowing whether public servants are carrying out their duties in a law-abiding and efficient manner,” Murray wrote in a letter to Amesbury School Superintendent Jared Fulgoni that was copied to Daily News editor Richard K. Lodge.
Lodge appealed to the supervisor after the School Department sent him mostly blacked-out material in response to his Public Records Law request.
On Jan. 23, Murray ordered the unredacted documents sent to her, including a copy of a report on the release of public emails between former School Committee member Gretchen Marinopoulos and Amesbury High School Assistant Principal Glenn Gearin.
In May, the School Committee unanimously approved payment for an investigation, which was conducted by Discrimination and Harassment Solutions Inc. of West Falmouth and completed last fall at a cost of $8,200 for 32.8 hours of work.
But the 24-page investigative report about the emails was not made public, which prompted Lodge to file the records request on behalf of the newspaper.
On, Dec. 16, Lodge filed a Public Records Law request for the report but received a document from Superintendent Jared Fulgoni in early January that was redacted so heavily that no information could be drawn from it, including names, dates, verbs and subjects of sentences.
On Jan. 8, Lodge appealed to Murray, who then wrote to Fulgoni asking for unredacted copies of the investigative report, which she reviewed in her office to see if any of it should be made public.
On Friday, Murray’s office sent a letter to Fulgoni that states that she has found the district has not shown sufficient reason to justify its redactions.
Murray ordered the district to provide Lodge with a response “consistent with this determination” within 10 business days.
“Based on the District’s responses and review of the records (in office), I find it has not met its burden to show how an exemption applies to justify its redactions to responsive records” requested by The Daily News, Murray wrote.
The School Department was closed for Presidents Day on Monday and Murphy, Lamere & Murphy attorney Peter Sumners, representing the schools, did not returns calls to the newspaper for comment.
The investigation stems from an incident April 8 when then-School Committee member Marinopoulos presented a motion to eliminate a $55,257 part-time assistant principal position at the high school. The School Committee approved Marinopoulos’ motion and she resigned via email the next day at 6:04 a.m.
But The Daily News published a story April 29 drawing from a series of emails between Gearin and Marinopoulos that demonstrated a history of conflict between the two.
Gearin works as both a part-time assistant principal and a part-time athletic director, and the emails showed he and Marinopoulos had been at odds with each other after her son was cut from the varsity soccer team roughly three years earlier.
On May 6, Marinopoulos requested that the School Committee fund an investigation of the leaked emails after she had been told by Lodge that the paper had obtained the emails through a Public Records Law request and through a verbal request to then-Mayor Ken Gray’s office.
Marinopoulos also obtained an extensively redacted copy of the investigation after making a public records request that cost her more than $560. The newspaper was not charged for a digital copy of the redacted report.
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.