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Secret suspensions: Public in dark; this needs to stop

October 06. 2012 7:57PM

The lack of information provided the public regarding the suspensions of Manchester High School West's principal and her secretary, and Raymond's school superintendent, and the dismissal of Fremont's police chief, is appalling. It also ought to be, as the education community likes to say, a 'teachable moment.'

The lesson to teach is that officials accountable to the public need to stop hiding behind or being cowed by their lawyers or the general threat of litigation. School boards, selectmen and in fact all governing boards and agencies need to adopt new rules that promulgate openness and dissemination of as much information as possible.

Instead, the public has grown accustomed to being kept completely and absurdly in the dark as the people's employees, many in positions of high authority, are suspended, investigated, fired or allowed to quit and be sent off with generous severance packages or with nothing. The public's right to know is trampled under foot in the process and the public and the individuals involved are left twisting in the wind while rumor, speculation and innuendo of the most sordid varieties grow unchecked.

How is this good for anyone?

Governing boards, and the public that elects them and pays the bills, should insist on rules that provide as much information as possible as quickly as possible. A school principal's suspension should be announced immediately. (West's MaryEllen McGorry's was not. The Sunday News was tipped to it.) The dismissal of Fremont Chief Neal Janvrin was announced, but no details came out until he revealed them in his lawsuit against the town last week. A month after Raymond Supt. Jeannie Richardson was placed on paid leave, the public remains clueless.

Announcements to the public should outline the general reasons for the action, what is being done to resolve the situation, and in the case of a suspension, how long it is expected to take for said resolution.

If it is not criminally related, say so. If it doesn't involve students, in a school case, say so. If it is inter-personal, say so. If it is substance-abuse related, say so.

None of those charges could be any worse than what the public and the suspended or dismissed person's peers are left to speculate upon. The agency or board should stress that it is only an allegation but clearly one that requires immediate action.

The public should also know the nature of the allegation because if proved groundless, it might be an indication of the lack of fitness of the person doing the suspending.

We would really like to see some public officials, and some lawyers, with the backbone to step forward to promote this kind of openness with the same energy that is regularly expended on the back-flipping, mind-numbing reasons, excuses and hypotheses given for keeping the public in the dark about the public's business.

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