Scott Stanford: Pilot made right choice on e-mails

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Scott Stanford

Scott Stanford is general manager of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Call him at 970-871-4202 or email sstanford@SteamboatToday.com

— In the past week, the Pilot & Today staff has taken criticism for how we handled e-mails sent by School Board member John DeVincentis during his last year as principal at Strawberry Park Elementary School.

Let me address, individually, the issues raised:

n The newspaper should reveal the identity of the person who provided the e-mails.

Paper copies of the e-mails were left in brown manila envelopes for Suzanne Schlicht, the newspaper's general manager. Schlicht was not present when the e-mails were delivered. Someone later took credit for delivering the e-mails but asked not to be identified.

I'm an advocate for openness, and I certainly don't like quoting anonymous sources in stories. But that's not what happened here. In every story, there is a name attached to every person who alleges wrongdoing by DeVincentis. There is a name attached to every person who calls on him to resign.

We did not solicit the e-mails and we did not use illegal means to obtain them. Someone gave them to us. We took the time - more than a week - to verify them and determine that they were newsworthy. At that point, how we got them no longer was important.

What is important is fulfilling our obligation to respect our source's anonymity.

n The newspaper invaded DeVincentis' privacy.

In the early days of the Internet, a smart person told me never to write an e-mail that I wouldn't want my grandmother to read. Once you click "send," you have relinquished control over who will see your e-mails. Using a public school computer and public school e-mail account only lessens the expectation of privacy. The school district warned DeVincentis of this.

Finally, DeVincentis is, in journalism speak, a significant public figure. When he decided to seek and accept a seat on the School Board, he gave up a certain level of privacy that the average Joe might expect. In layman's terms, the e-mails of a principal and School Board candidate matter more than the e-mails of a fifth-grade teacher.

n The e-mails are old and therefore not newsworthy.

The last of the e-mails was written less than two years ago. When he was writing them, DeVincentis was an elementary school principal and, by his own admission, had already made the decision to run for the School Board. The e-mails reveal a level of anger and vindictiveness - sustained during a period of 10 months - that might have altered the 2005 election had the public known.

Further, the e-mails reveal DeVincentis had anger toward Superintendent Donna Howell before he earned a seat on the board.

Despite the board's claims to the contrary, Howell is under fire. She has been the subject of seven closed sessions and two facilitated discussions since the first of the year. School Board President Denise Connelly said last week that "everything is up in the air" when it comes to Howell's job status. This School Board's most important job is hiring, firing and directing the superintendent, and the e-mails are absolutely relevant to DeVincentis' present and future interactions with Howell.

n Similar e-mails could be found on anyone's computer.

The e-mails are newsworthy, in part, simply because their content is so outside the norm, particularly for a public official who should know better. I have read all of the e-mails multiple times. I honestly can't recall anything comparable coming to me or being sent by me. I think most people feel the same way.

Obviously there were two options for handling these e-mails once we received them. I think we absolutely made the right choice.

A lot of people have called or e-mailed me in the past few days, but I'm always open for more feedback on this or other subjects. You know how to reach me.

Scott Stanford's From the Editor column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today. Visit his blog at steamboatpilot.com/stanford, call him at 871-4221 or e-mail editor@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

bolter 7 years, 8 months ago

Pilot/Today did the right thing.

The source won't be anonymous for long. I'm sure that the Board President's bold move---launching an all-out investigation to learn how Dr. D got caught---will smoke out the "real" perpetrator and bring him/her to justice. Of course, they'll want that "news" on the front page of the Pilot/today.

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jeannie berger 7 years, 8 months ago

I think we should have a parade in their honor. Hear! Hear!

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 8 months ago

I think that whomever released the emails needs to be fired or publicly reprimanded when/if identified, unless it can be proved that they went through any policy in place to release School District emails. While they may be public, I'd be surprised if there's no red-tape involved in getting emails released.

And just to play fair, let's release all emails found from any other past board members. That way, we can dig to see if they put any thought-crimes down in writing. It may prove just as newsworthy. Maybe these BOD past members have some interesting emails to each other/other people about Dr. D while he was principal and fighting with Simms. I'd be interested to see what they were saying all this time. Fair is fair.

As I've stated before, this whole thing means nothing to me. I just want to see fairness all the way around.

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sickofitall 7 years, 8 months ago

Im glad the Steamboat Pilot Today is willing to judge itself! How about a peer review? You guys are so bias. Just another garbage article put out by a glorified classified ad paper.

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beentheredonethat 7 years, 8 months ago

good job, steamboat pilot. thank you for keeping us informed.

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WZ4EVER 7 years, 8 months ago

While I rarely find the Pilot "objective" and often see it as an advertising (not news) media, in this case I am glad they did what they did. This IS newsworthy, and in spite of what might be a strong anti-school board bias by the paper, they informed us about a very serious problem that until now was only guessed at.

I hope that "boat-throat" is never exposed, and if they are, that nothing happens to their employment in an act of revenge from the remaining Board....that is, if any of them survive a recall.

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reallocal 7 years, 8 months ago

This article had it all-drama, revenge, swears, excerpts-not only was it newsworthy, it was well written. Thanks for taking the gamble. Our community will be better for it.

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 8 months ago

WZ4EVER- Would you fire or laud an employee of yours who leaked stuff such as personnel records from your business about another manager or co-ower to the public without your authorization? Simple question

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bolter 7 years, 8 months ago

Kielbasa: If a police dept. employee found emails on a police email account showing that a cop was taking bribes, they wouldn't come forward for fear of the firing etc. you advocate. Is it really better for that story not to be told? Isn't the protection of sources what makes a free press a free press? Without the protection of sources, the Pilot/Today would just be "a glorified classified ad paper" churning out "garbage article[s]". Cat stuck in tree. Sailors win. Snow in forecast.

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bolter 7 years, 8 months ago

"boat throat". I love it. Keilbasa: The school board/district is is not a private company, it is a government agency charged with the education of our children. Here's a simple question for you: If an elected official is rotten, should the rottenness be exposed?

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 8 months ago

Bolter- if a police dept. employee found emails of an officer taking bribes, he can take it to Internal Affairs to be protected. Those emails would then be authorized for release for investigation.

The School District, I'm sure, has a method in place for releasing public information. At best, because it's public, it can petitioned to be opened. It's evident that until someone comes forward to say they authorized the release of said information, it was an illegal or very improper act. Why is everyone so willing to hold 1 person accountable and not another?

You have 2 things going on: Essentially, a person who works for the School District bad-mouthing his co-workers...and a person who released sensitive material from a School without authorization. Which person did something possibly immoral & which one did something possibly illegal?

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 8 months ago

Bolter- That's the question, isn't it? Should one employee get off scott-free for doing something possibly illegal to bring to light the underhandedness of an elected official?

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 8 months ago

Bolter- yes, the elected official should be exposed, but not by illegal means. Just like some idiots get off scott-free because a cop didn't follow the rules, that should apply here also.

By your answer, I understand that to mean you condone one criminal act to go rewarded because it exposed an immoral one by someone else. Interesting way of looking at things.

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reallocal 7 years, 8 months ago

Are we sure these emails weren't known about internally? And as many people seem to keep getting confused, the school district is not in the private sector. They are publically subsidized. Kielbasa-I agree that there are two different things going on here. I guess my question is which one should take precedence? The slander and liable of a former district employee by a person elected to a position of public trust or the whistleblower? For the life of me, I can't figure out why an internal investigation is preceeding a united public condemnation (at LEAST) of DeVincentis' actions. I guess that tells you a lot about the leadership of our district.

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portagetheyampa 7 years, 8 months ago

Scott, you made the correct decision to publish the emails. You print the news and that was the news. Thanks, also for being forthright about your own past(which I thought had nothing, whatsoever, to do with how you function as a professional journalist).

Like others, I am disgusted that Denise Connolly's priority is using our tax money, dollars that should be spent on educating our children, to hire an attorney to identify the source of the "great email leak, " now known as "boat-throat." Our school board needs to take a position on John's future as one of them and the community will then respond accordingly.

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 8 months ago

Reallocal- The school district is not in the private sector, but just like any government sponsored agency (because, that's what Public Schools really are, correct?) they have mechanisms in place for release of public information. That means, "there are rules in place to follow so nobody gets sued." By all rights, I'd suspect that Dr. D is consulting a lawyer about having emails released in this manner. They may not have been privately his, but they were released in a capacity not condoned by the District.

As for the emails being slanderous or libelous...I can't comment on it since I don't know either D or Simms personally, and I didn't see anything in them that would make me think they were slanderous or libelous. Harshly worded and angry? Definitely! Untrue? I can't say whether they were true or not. They came off sounding like opinions.

As far as an investigation goes, I don't see why that can't happen simultaneously. In fact, if nobody in the chain-of-command authorized those emails to be released, I would make that a priority just because it means you have an employee making "command" decisions that aren't in their capacity. If they are willing to do that, what else are they willing to do against company policy? As I said before, would you not fire an employee that released company information against your orders, regardless of what was released?

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reallocal 7 years, 8 months ago

No. I would rather have employees with morals. And if someone is fired over this, I hope they know they can have a pick of jobs...with organizations with better leadership than our publically funded ones. Ironic, huh?

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 8 months ago

Reallocal- An employee with morals will also not go behind their employer's back to release sensitive information. It's technically company theft. Not very moral, from what I've read.

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reallocal 7 years, 8 months ago

Not if you're working for a MORAL employer. DeVincentis has no business being in the same sentence as that word.

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 8 months ago

Okay, Reallocal- you win. It's okay for one employee to go against policy to expose another employee to the public outside of a workplace against that workplace employer's wishes.

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bolter 7 years, 8 months ago

Keilbasa: You are assuming that the source committed a crime. If boat-throat broke into D's house and forced him at gunpoint to give up the emails, that is a crime and should be punished accordingly. If a crime was committed, D would have probably mentioned it in his "apology" letter.

The release signed by D regarding the non-private nature of school account emails means that he had no expectation of privacy in them, and no 4th Amendment "search" is implicated.

If boat-throat did not follow "company policy", that is not a crime. Doing the right thing is, in this case, more important than following company policy. The next stage in the "company policy" would be to bury the story and conduct business as usual.

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JQPUBLIC 7 years, 8 months ago

Okay kielbasa...when a policy protects personal info (ss numbers, birthdates, etc.) it's needed, but if it protects public officials from exposure to prevent "embarrassment" then it is improper policy. Trying to make your point in this case you said "It's okay for one employee to go against policy to expose another employee to the public outside of a workplace against that workplace employer's wishes...he isn't an employee, he is an elected official and he is "employed" by the public... It doesn't sound like he was exposed against the wishes of the public (his "employers").

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 8 months ago

Okay JQ- Turn it around: why is it okay for someone requesting this information to remain anonymous? To save face from embarrassment and retribution? The whole mess from these emails is about impropriety of a personal vendetta of Dr. D's against Cyndi Simms. How do we know those emails weren't released for the exact same reason by someone with a personal vendetta against Dr. D? Plus, since we don't know who asked for the emails, how do you know it wasn't by another BOE member (against the Code of Conduct)? Without knowing who it was, it might be someone doing exactly what Dr. D did.

I don't expect anyone to understand. This is an anonymous forum where everyone understands that it's ok to talk behind someone's back as long as you DON'T get identified so as not to worry about repecussions. Dr. D got caught doing what half this forum does multiple times a day, except he had put his name to it on a business computer before he was an elected official, so doesn't get to remain anonymous.

(Now, I'll expect to hear about that last refuge of the Hypocrisy Fringe: Moral Equivalence!)

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JQPUBLIC 7 years, 8 months ago

kielbasa...because it is public info and shouldn't matter who is asking for it. "Save face from embarrassment" for asking for public documents, I don't think so... from retribution, you bet! If Dr. D is capable of reaching across the country to try and ruin someones reputation and career, don't you think he (and others like him) would be capable of revenge close to home? When someone manipulates the system the way Dr. D did and your reputation and livelihood are on the line, you fight back the most effective way possible so just maybe this wasn't a vendetta, just self-preservation. As for him "doing what half this forum does multiple times a day," if it were just the words (the name calling) and him venting his thoughts the situation would be a little different but it's not, it's his actions to get what he wanted and his suggestions to McGowen to do the same insidious acts to finish what he had started, which was to "ruin her career". I wrote that statement in another forum... now, we may be speaking up anonymously but at least we aren't trying cause dissension and manipulate others just to ruin his career, we are reacting to his actions by his own admission (the emails) even if you don't agree with the way he was exposed.

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 8 months ago

Since the person who left the emails is anonymous, we'll never know if they were vengeful or not, so it's a moot point. Leave those particular blinders on. Since we don't know who did it, we just don't care. Got it. I love how people never want to know the whole story of how things happen, just the juicy tidbits. No wonder this whole thing is where it is now.

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Doug Marsh 7 years, 8 months ago

Let's try this for a minute. My wife works for the school district. Does that mean she can go through anybody's computer, grab any information she wants, brings it home to me so I can then decide if I want the rest of the world to see the contents or not.
I don't think any enity is set up that way. Not saying the emails were not of a vengeful nature, but who has the right to decide what is important for the Pilot to see or not when the way they were captured was just as bad.

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gwendolyn 7 years, 8 months ago

no, she doesn't have the right to do this. a "record keeper" does this and is responsible for redacting any content not deemed "public" by law/governance. like names of kids.

also, email sent by the public TO the district employee is NOT deemed public. It belongs to the original sender. copyright law. The same is true of snail mail you receive. Sender retains ownership rights of content.

that said, if a computer isn't properly wiped clean (with content backed up and archived in "records"), that computer might travel onward to other employees, giving them access to pre-existing content. Oh, and even if you delete the content, it's still "out there" -- defrag or total reinstall of OS is necessary to overwrite it, I think.

also, who handles the computers for this district? adults? kids? A+ techie students? is there policy and procedure on how computer information is dealt with and/or archived?

without strict procedures in place by the district that are meticulously followed, literally ANYONE could have had access to this information. Admin, teachers, students, even parents who volunteer....

I once had a government employee in Texas send me an unsolicited porno email. weird. weirder yet, he used his texas.gov email account to send it. I was able to trace the IP and look up his name and supervisor on the internet and promptly forwarded the email with a cease and desist request. The sup called me, apologized profusely for his staffer, and then proceeded to suggest it was simply a minor error in judgement by the employee. Took me by surprise. Basically, the guy didn't care. Not even if it was done on public time or with public dollars to pay his staffer.

Hey, it was the accounting department (budget office) and the guy was bored.

I wonder if that email is still on that guy's computer somewhere.... I sure hope they sanitized the keyboard before passing it along to the next employee....

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autumnwitch 7 years, 8 months ago

Who in their right mind, after having signed a document stating that e-mails are considered public documents, would go and write that kind of trash on a computer he/she knows could be checked at any time? Oh, right, someone with an ego that is so huge he thinks he is above reproach. Too bad they weren't found before he retired so he could have been FIRED like the rest of us would be when using a computer from work to spew such garbage.
Gwen-that guy should have fired, sorry there are such disgusting people out there and people who support them.

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Andyeast 7 years, 8 months ago

If it is true that email sent from a private source to a public school email address is in fact still owned by the original writer.. Maybe this McGowan should bring charges to the Pilot. Have they violated copyright law?

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reallocal 7 years, 8 months ago

I LOVE bleach. And I would be interested to know the truth about he and John's relationship. After all, if a staff member were to give him a vodoo doll, wouldn't it be interesting to know if a copy of McGowan's book was also included?

http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Poverty-Rock-Joby-McGowan/dp/1413714552/ref=sr_1_1/002-1089672-6625641?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1176457920&sr=1-1

If so, wouldn't it make more sense that John initially contacted McGown? Especially with reflection on the reason that McGowan did not seem particularly loyal to DeVincentis when contacted about these emails?

If so, this would prove a lie in DeVincentis' apology letter. Wow, I wish I could apologize and get away with lying in the letter...

Kay, come home! We need you now!

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JQPUBLIC 7 years, 8 months ago

Come on reallocal.... does his lying now really surprise you? This is one public official that was "given enough rope to hang himself", which he did. Too bad for Connelly that she chose to catch him when he fell, now they can both go down together.

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Andyeast 7 years, 8 months ago

autumnwitch - Yes there is a quote from that McGowan's email.... Two in fact....- Has anyone read that book that McGowan supposedly wrote? Do we even know what it says...

I don't think McGowan's responses were unloyal to Devincentis.. It simply agreed that what they said was unkind of Simms and that he objected to the emails being posted.. That sounds like he was in agreement and didn't want people to read them two years after the fact.

And how the hell do we know who is reposnsible for starting the communication? We don't know for sure it wasn't McGowan.. HAS ANYONE TALKED TO THIS MCGOWEN GUY ???

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