During question time at the special “community meeting” in Catskill’s new Senior Center, the school district’s trustees were invited to confirm or deny that the lawsuit had indeed been filed; that the plaintiff, Stanley Dushane, had accused the trustees of making him the victim of political persecution; that a settlement had been reached; and that in accepting the settlement the trustees had not acted on advice of counsel.
To these questions, posed by a Seeing Greene reporter, Superintendent Kathleen Farrell responded by alluding to a “sealed court document” that “cannot be discussed.” (She also alluded to a “letter of commendation” from the board to Mr Dushane that was included in the confidential agreement). Citing that out-of-court settlement of a “personnel” matter, Dr Farrell declined to say any more about the case. Board President James Garafalo endorsed that position. The other trustees were silent.
Dr Farrell’s response marked the board’s first public acknowledgement of a civil suit that had been filed in June 2003 before State Supreme Court Justice Leslie Stein. Information about the case had never been shared at the board’s public meetings, and had not appeared in the news media, other than the October 25th issue (“The Secret Lawsuit”) of Seeing Greene.
Mr Dushane accused the school trustees—with Morris Darling as president at the time, and Geraldine Wolff as superintendent—of fraud. They had put through a series of administrative changes that included abolition of the Head Janitor position in favor of a Director of Facilities whose educational and technical requirements were relatively rigorous. Mr Dushane did not apply for the new job; he was offered, and accepted, an ordinary custodial appointment. But then he went to court, claiming that in essence he had been the victim of wrongful dismissal, with deprivation of accumulated benefits. In the words of his formal complaint, Catskill’s school trustees engaged in “intentionally misleading” and “defrauding” him; they did so as “retaliation for plaintiff’s involvement in the political activity between local fire hose companies.”
The secret settlement of the secret lawsuit took place last September. According to the best information we have been able to gather, the settlement calls for the trustees to pay Mr Dushane $35,000.
Now for some hunches:
*In deciding to settle and to pay, the trustees were not heeding advice of counsel.
*By settling out of court and acting in secrecy, the trustees have tacitly endorsed serious accusations (fraud, political persecution) against their predecessors (including, in some cases, themselves). Did Mr Dushane withdraw those accusations? Was he asked to do so? The settling parties evidently do not want us to know.
*The board’s rationale for stonewalling is spurious. Although the out-of-court settlement’s immediate terms may be confidential, they do not preclude open acknowledgement of the suit’s existence, open discussion of the formally filed complaint and rejoinder and amended complaint, or discussion of procedures that led to settlement. Moreover, stonewalling cannot be rationalized as appropriate handling of a “personnel” matter. The matter is legal and financial. The trustees evidently have concealed an outlay of taxpayers’ money.
*Stonewalling serves powerfully to fortify doubts about procedural integrity. The settlement with Mr Dushane followed substantial change in the composition of the school board. It came about after Mr Galafalo and Michael Battaglino came on board, after Mr Galafalo became President of the board, and after James DiPerna was elected as Vice-President. Those men are close friends indeed of Stanley Dushane. They were active, presumably, in deciding how to handle the case. They collaborated in concealing the whole business. It’s still possible, however, that they helped to shape an outcome that, in the final analysis, has merit. #
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