The Hamburg School Board voted to oust board member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci, effective immediately, by a 5-to-1 vote after deliberating in executive session for over four-and-a-half hours.
The board members started the evening listening to findings from hearing officer David Hoover that concluded she had engaged in official misconduct by berating and verbally attacking the superintendent, board president and staff members.
Schrauth Forcucci, who had fought to have the charges against her aired in public, wept as the hearing officer read his conclusions.
Schrauth Forcucci had been charged April 30 with:
• Berating and/or verbally attacking board President David Yoviene twice, including “forcefully” placing her finger on his chest.
• Berating and/or verbally attacking Superintendent Richard Jetter several times.
• Berating the superintendent’s secretary with disrespect during a phone conversation and verbally attacking the secretary in the restroom, causing the secretary to feel threatened for her personal safety.
Hearing Officer David Hoover, who sat through more than 45 hours of testimony, concluded that she did engage in official misconduct on a number of occasions and she did “have a detrimental impact” on the board’s ability to function.
He said there was evidence that she was confrontational toward the board president, superintendent and staff members. But his report was merely a recommendation for the School Board, who deliberated without Schrauth Forcucci.
The fact that someone from outside the district would come to that conclusion is “incredibly important,” said Ed Piazza, who heads a parent group that has called for the removal of Schrauth Forcucci and two other board members.
“This district is so divided now,” he said, adding that Hoover’s recommendations helped show the process was fair.
He said the removal of Schrauth Forcucci is another step in the right direction. “It gives us the opportunity to move forward and get back on track.”
Another longtime Hamburg resident said he feels sorry for Schrauth Forcucci.
“It’s a black eye for her, it’s a black eye for the district,” said Don Lucarell. “I think she needed her hand slapped and she didn’t use good judgment.”
He also said he thought the hearing was a waste of taxpayer money.
The hearing, which cost more than $100,000, began May 27 and lasted for nine sessions. The district called eight witnesses, and four testified for the defense.
The School Board and district have been divided for several years. Divisions were seen on the board throughout the months of the hearing.
Board President David Yoviene had said Schrauth Forcucci wasn’t charged because she disagreed with other board members.
“We didn’t do this because she opposed our views. I don’t have a problem with that,” Yoviene said. “She does not know how to act like an adult.”
The board also wanted the hearing conducted in a closed executive session to keep it from becoming “the spectacle it became,” Yoviene said.
State Supreme Court Justice Diane Y. Devlin ordered the hearing to be held in open session.
The first three sessions were held behind closed and locked doors in the administration building, and the rest were held before the public in Armor Elementary School. The sessions attracted between 30 and 75 people.
The School Board had the responsibility to weigh the charges against Schrauth Forcucci, decide if each was true, and then if each constituted official misconduct, according to a preponderance of the evidence.
The hearing officer said that Jetter’s admission to police that he, not vandals, damaged his car, presented “dramatic credibility issues.” He decided that all of Jetter’s testimony was “inherently unreliable,” and he did not consider it. Jetter was placed on paid administrative leave July 23 by the School Board.
But in most instances, Jetter was not the only witness against Schrauth Forcucci.
Hoover said that Schrauth Forcucci, in many instances, failed to engage in proper comportment for a School Board member.
He found there was insufficient evidence to prove that she verbally berated Jetter on the phone and that there was no evidence that taking executive session material from a meeting was official misconduct.
Also Tuesday night, a town justice set a trial date for a harassment violation case against Schrauth Forcucci involving a February incident with Boston Valley Elementary Principal James Martinez.
The trial in the case, which is being handled in Eden Town Court, is scheduled to begin Oct. 7.
Town Justice Melissa Zittel also alerted town prosecutor Kevin Condon and Schrauth Forcucci’s attorney, Nick Hriczko, about a potential conflict of interest. Zittel said that former Hamburg School Board member Holly Balaya once worked in Zittel’s law firm.
“We wouldn’t take any objection,” Hriczko said.
News staff reporter Karen Robinson contributed to this article.