Our view: Investigation proper, but DeVincentis still should go
July 8, 2007
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs School Board was right to investigate how e-mails sent by John DeVincentis in 2004-05 were made public.
Still, nothing in the resulting report changes the fact that, absent his resignation, DeVincentis should stand for election in November. The e-mails he sent in his final year as principal at Strawberry Park Elementary School were not only in violation of school policies, they were disturbingly vitriolic and unprofessional. They reveal character issues that, coupled with his behavior on the School Board, warrant letting voters reconsider whether he should continue in his public role.
The investigation report should be helpful in reviewing and updating school policies regarding employees’ use of school e-mail, the expectation of privacy in such e-mails and the processes that will be used to ensure that privacy. Those policies have not been updated in a decade.
It also was right for the board to investigate whether any district policies were violated. An independent investigation was the only way to accomplish this.
Investigator Earl Rhodes’ four findings in the report are instructive. In summary, they are:
n DeVincentis violated school policies by sending and receiving personal e-mails on his work computer and that he did not have a right of privacy when the e-mails were retrieved.
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n Superintendent Donna Howell had a right to access DeVincentis’ computer and that it was appropriate to share the e-mails with then School Board President Paula Stephenson.
n Howell could have done more to prevent the public release of the e-mails.
n Former board member Pat Gleason violated school policies by giving the e-mails to the newspaper.
The investigation also revealed Stephenson’s role in the e-mails. Although she has not addressed the matter, it is evident Stephenson provided the e-mails to Gleason. Gleason has tried to take sole responsibility for the episode. But silence or not, Stephenson should share in that criticism.
We can only speculate as to the motivation for and timing of the e-mails’ release. Would it have been better to have these e-mails prior to the November 2005 election? Absolutely. Was this done to discredit DeVincentis? Sure. Did Gleason and Stephenson hold onto the e-mails to use as a trump card to try to save the superintendent they hired? Perhaps. The politics involved are not pretty.
Gleason grasped from the outset that there was a consequence to his actions. He resigned his seat on the School Board and stated in his resignation that his actions were in conflict with board ethics. His resignation was appropriate.
DeVincentis’ resignation would be equally so.
Perhaps it would be different if the e-mails DeVincentis sent had not been so vitriolic or if there had not been so many e-mails throughout such a long period of time, or if DeVincentis had not already, time and again, been the central figure in school district turmoil. But as it stands, no one else’s actions – and nothing in the investigation report – can excuse DeVincentis’ conduct.
The e-mail investigation was necessary and proper. Given DeVincentis’ refusal to resign, so is the effort to force him onto the ballot in November.
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