Hamburg School Board members Tuesday night refused to end a lawsuit that spawned a subpoena looking for the identity of an anonymous blogger.
The board voted, 3-2, against a motion by board member Holly Balaya to stop funding the civil lawsuit filed against Sally Stephenson; her daughter, Lindsey Stephenson, who taught in the district; and teacher Martha Kavanaugh, accusing them of secretly taping an executive session of the School Board on Sept. 21, 2010. The three women have denied the charge.
The subpoena was part of the lawsuit and was brought to light by parent Robert Johnstun during the May 7 School Board meeting. The district filed a subpoena with Google to find out the identities of Concerned Hamburger, who runs the Hamburg Educational Ethics blog, and Klozman and Super, who regularly post comments on the blog that often ridicules top administrators and some School Board members with biting and humorous caricatures. Johnstun has identified himself as Super.
The lawsuit was filed in June 2012, the month before Stephenson joined the School Board.
“It’s turning out to be a fishing expedition, and we’re going after private citizens,” said Balaya, who is another of Stephenson’s daughters. “My issue is the amount of money it’s taking.”
Board President Joan Calkins and Superintendent Steven Achramovitch said the lawsuit has cost the district $10,000 in legal fees. Calkins said other major legal fees since 2010 include $94,000 on two teacher arbitrations, which the district won; $43,000 for Freedom of Information Law requests; $53,000 to defend appeals to the state education commissioner; $68,000 for general legal expenses and $40,000 for student services.
Board member Thomas F. Flynn III said anyone involved in an executive session should have an expectation that the session would be kept private.
“I would vote for this immediately if whoever the responsible parties are that taped – illegally taped – our session would come forward,” Flynn said. “When laws are broken, I think at some point people need to be held responsible.”
He, Calkins and board member Matthew Dils voted against ending the lawsuit, and Stephenson and Balaya voted to stop funding it.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the school district, Achramovitch, Calkins, board members Patricia Brunner-Collins, Dils and Diane Reynolds, former board President Gregory Wichlacz, former board member Casey Neyman and former Director of Administrative Services Thomas Bagley. They are seeking punitive damages and payment of attorneys’ fees from the three women.
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