School district did do right thing
After reading Steve Pope’s commentary on Wednesday, April 21, I feel the need to respond and present my perspective on the e-mail litigation between the school district and Speakout Publisher Mike Cacioppo.
To begin, your father’s two life rules are admirable and I respect any person or organization that follows them. Using your father’s homilies as a guide, I would like to take you through the history of the situation.
When the “impending boycott came to light” and we learned that a flier had been distributed through the district mail, we did do the “right thing.”
Then-Superintendent Mel Preusser immediately contacted all administrators and directed them to not distribute but to destroy the fliers, and he communicated that this action was not sanctioned or supported by the district. This communication occurred first by a phone call to every principal, then in person at a regularly scheduled administrative meeting that afternoon and finally it was followed up in writing.
In regard to your father’s second rule “if you screw up, apologize and try to fix the situation”: Upon learning about the boycott flier, Mel contacted Mr. Cacioppo about the incident and explained that we did stop the distribution and that the action was neither condoned nor supported by the district. He also explained that all administrators were directed to not distribute but to destroy the fliers. We did “do the right thing” and “try to fix the situation.”
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When Mike Cacioppo requested a copy of the flier, one was sent him. When he requested a copy of all communication from the district regarding the alleged boycott, every communication related to the incident was given to him.
The incident unraveled when Mike refused to believe that what he was given was all that there was. We attempted on numerous occasions to explain to him that we stopped the distribution of the fliers and that the attempted boycott was illegal and not condoned by the district, but Mike simply did not believe us.
This led to his insisting that the district e-mails be searched for further evidence. The district conducted the search and provided Mike with the results.
He continued to doubt the findings and obtained a court order forcing the district to undelete files from the e-mail server. The district followed the court order and hired an outside consultant to conduct the search.
Mike was told up-front that it would be his responsibility for any excessive cost associated with the retrieval. When the process was completed Mike simply refused to pay for cost for the retrieval. This is what led to the unnecessary litigation that followed.
You have correctly identified facts about district expenses, such as the $37,000 cost for the legal process. However, I find it puzzling that you correctly quoted the facts without asking anyone at the district for these numbers. In checking with staff members in our business service office, there has been no information about the cost of the case given to anyone at the Vail Daily. We have historically cooperated with Mike and provided him with information regarding district issues, including the legal expenses associated with this case. This leads me to believe that your staff obtained the numbers from Mr. Cacioppo.
Although I certainly respect your right to print what you feel and believe, your commentary would have been at least fairly balanced had you taken the time to talk one of us about the situation.
In closing, some of what you wrote I agree with, especially the fact that “at least one of the district’s staff was responsible for beginning the boycott of Cacioppo’s paper.” Personally, I would like to know who the individual was, so that they could have the chance to “do the right thing” and “apologize and try to fix the situation.” They certainly have put our organization in a precarious situation and that is unfortunate.
I am also aware of the public’s concern regarding the district’s decision to go to court to recover the cost of the retrieval,
rather than simply giving Mike the findings without requesting him to pay for them.
In my opinion, we would have either gone to court then or later, because Mike made it clear at the time that he did not believe that he was given all of the information and intended further litigation against the district.
This has been his method of operation historically. In fact, he continues to refuse to accept our findings and has stated that he will not be satisfied until he has unlimited access to every e-mail regardless of whether or not it contains confidential information. Personally, I have serious concerns about his position.
Certainly the public has access to certain district information that is not protected by confidentiality law, and sometimes that would mean e-mail communications.
But how could any organization effectively operate if they were not able to utilize internal communications systems such as e-mail for confidential purposes? I’m sure that you and the public can understand my concern.
John Brendza is the superintendent of the Eagle County School District.