When the state legislature approved the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act was 42 years ago, the following was read into the record:
“The legislature finds and declares that secrecy in government is inherently inconsistent with a true democracy, that the people have a right to be fully informed of the action taken by public agencies in order that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”
Apparently that statement hasn’t reached 42 Grove St. in Ansonia, where the school board met Thursday.
First, a member of the school board directed a reporter where to stand outside the meeting.
See the video above.
The same elected official — Fran DiGiorgi — incorrectly claimed she couldn’t be photographed without consent, despite being a public official conducting business on behalf of the public at a public meeting.
Then, after the board voted to approve a “settlement agreement” with an employee — who was eventually revealed as Ansonia High School Principal Terri Goldson — the board wouldn’t release to the public what they had just approved.
School board president William Nimons eventually said the agreement calls on Goldson to retire from his job at the high school.
Goldson was put on leave in December after his Twitter account “liked” a 28-second pornographic video.
School officials have never confirmed whether the video was connected to the disciplinary action.
Goldson was not at the meeting and he has not responded to requests for comment.
In a public Facebook Dec. 19 post he acknowledged the Twitter situation and indicated it was an accident.
“There was a very inappropriate video with sexual content on my Twitter feed today. Please … be careful with social media,” he wrote.
Goldson’s Facebook page has since been inundated with messages of support from community members.
But one Internet troll also called Goldon the “n” word on the page.
Goldson, whose family has a long record of public service in Ansonia, grew up in the city.
He has worked for the city’s schools since 1987, first as a teacher, then as an administrator beginning in 1997.
His most recent role was as principal at Ansonia High School, where his salary was $144,000, according to the school district’s contract with administrators.
Public In The Dark, For Now
Nimons also said the agreement approved Thursday calls on Schools Superintendent Carol Merlone to write Goldson a letter of recommendation.
Nimons said he couldn’t say much because the agreement included a non-disclosure clause.
But non-disclosure clauses are meaningless in public sector jobs, something the school board’s lawyer told them, according to Nimons.
Nevertheless, Nimons declined to release the agreement itself or disclose any other terms.
“Attorneys on both sides wrote it up and that’s the way it’s written up and the only way you can get it is through FOI,” he said.
Photography Is Allowed
Prior to the start of the public meeting, DiGiorgi, the school board’s vice president, told a television cameraman he could not record video of her because she did not consent.
The cameraman explained that DiGiorgi was a public official conducting public business during a public meeting.
He suggested she move to the opposite side of the table, where only the back of her head would be visible.
The board then voted to enter a closed-door “executive session.”
In Connecticut, boards and commissions must meet in public. But there are exceptions, such as when the discussion involves a specific employee, pending litigation, a real estate deal, or security.
The meeting agenda exists to let the public know what’s happening.
The school board agenda seemed to be an attempt to combine all the state’s open-meeting exceptions into one sentence.
The agenda called for:
- A discussion of a “settlement matter in pending litigation,” though the board did not name the litigation. Lawsuits are public documents.
- The unnamed litigation is connected to an “employment issue,” but the board didn’t identify an employee or position.
- The board was also supposed to receive “a document protected by attorney-client privilege,” according to the agenda.
Click play on the video above to watch the beginning of the meeting.
As the board moved to start the executive session, The Valley Indy asked Nimons if he could tell the public what employee or pending litigation was being discussed.
“No,” Nimons said.
“And not only that, you guys have to go out and wait in the lobby, you cannot wait outside our door here,” DiGiorgi said.
The board then talked with a lawyer and Assistant Superintendent Joseph DiBacco for about 30 minutes.
After reconvening, the board voted unanimously to “authorize the assistant superintendent to finalize negotiations and execute the offered settlement agreement in accordance with the board’s executive session discussion.”
The meeting then ended.
Asked if Goldson was still employed by the district, Nimons said, “As of today, I’m not sure if it’s yes or no.”
Click the play button to listen to an interview with the school board president.
Nimons said the agreement includes Goldson receiving a letter of recommendation from the superintendent.
Goldson did not attend Thursday’s meeting, nor did anyone representing him.
He has not returned calls, emails, and messages seeking comment since an opaque investigation concerning him began in December.
At a school board meeting last month, several people spoke in support of Goldson during the meeting’s public portion.
His personnel file, which was released to the Valley Indy last month in response to a Freedom of Information request, is filled with commendations from parents and colleagues.
A review of the file shows no prior disciplinary actions taken against Goldson during his tenure at Ansonia Public Schools.