Schools say six e-mails pertain to Cacioppo boycott
After months of litigation, the Eagle County School District Friday released six e-mail messages pertaining to an alleged organized boycott of Avon resident Michael Cacioppo’s newspaper, Speakout!, and its advertisers. The e-mails were released after an April 14 Eagle County School Board meeting at which the board approved release of the messages.
The litigation stems from an incident in March of 2002 in which a flyer advocating a boycott of the newspaper and its advertisers was circulated via the district’s internal courier service to all the county’s public schools. School district officials have said since the incident came to light that the flyer was placed by persons unknown into the suitcases used for interoffice mail.
Cacioppo, who has alleged the flyer was part of an organized attempt by school officials to put his newspaper out of business, eventually filed suit to force the district to release all internal communication regarding the boycott.
School computer technicians purchased a $1,700 software package to recover deleted e-mails. That effort recovered several thousand files and “file fragments,” some of which were duplicates.
When Cacioppo asked to see the results of the recovery effort, school officials attempted to recover the costs of the software. Cacioppo took the matter to District Court in Eagle, where Judge Richard Hart ruled last month the schools had to allow Cacioppo access, without charge, to messages uncovered during the search.
While Hart ordered the schools to turn over the documents within three days, the district filed for a stay of the order, pending the April 14 school board meeting. No hearings were held on that motion – or a subsequent motion by Cacioppo to force the district to comply with Hart’s original order – before the April 14 school board meeting.
The messages released to the public from the recovered files are those which turned up in a search that sought matches with words including, “Cacioppo,” “flyer,” “Speakout” and “boycott.”
The results of that search turned up the six messages released Friday. Those messages cover a time span from April 1, 2002 through Sept. 6 of that year. The first message is from former Superintendent Mel Preusser, to the district’s administrative team, comprised of all of the principals of each school.
In it, he tells district administrators that “… the district does not condone the circulation of this information and does not support such a boycott. … The circulation of this list is contrary to our policy, is illegal and unethical and … if an employee is found to be responsible for this, disciplinary action will be taken.”
The next e-mail is from Aug. 29, 2002 and written by John Brendza, who succeeded Preusser. It was also sent to the administrative team and requests either all written communication about the boycott flyer or a summary of what principals told their staffs.
There are two brief replies, one from Gypsum Elementary School Principal Mike Gass, the other from Battle Mountain High School Principal Mark Bullock.
A fifth e-mail is from Brendza, a second request for principals to provide information.
The final e-mail is from school communications director Pam Boyd to the district’s e-mail news group detailing Cacioppo’s request for a restraining order demanding that no further e-mails be deleted.
The messages handed over Friday are, “a specific answer to a specific request,” said Rick Spitzer, head of technology for the schools.
The e-mails released are those that came up with more than one match to the search parameters, Spitzer said.
“That’s not believable,” Cacioppo said Friday. “It’s difficult to believe that from April through August not a single e-mail was found. That’s just not credible.”
Spitzer said there are several dozen e-mails – most from Preusser or Brendza – that have already been made available to Cacioppo.
Recovered file fragments may contain references to Cacioppo or other items in the keyword search. But, Spitzer said, many of those files are about school events advertised with flyers, such as Wild West Days.
Spitzer said several thousand e-mails a day are generated in the district, and those that are deleted will eventually be over-written by other messages.
Cacioppo said he remains skeptical, adding he still believes there was an organized boycott effort which is still being covered up.
“Certain employees in this district more interested in taking out Michael Cacioppo than improving test scores,” he said.