HAMBURG — In answering questions on June 25, related to alleged incidents involving Hamburg School Member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci, district Superintendent Dr. Richard Jetter simply pointed to a sign behind Forcucci’s attorney that stated “There is no Bullying in Our School.” That symbolism, he said, is ironic, based on reported actions of Schrauth Forcucci.
The first hearing made public regarding official misconduct charges against Schrauth Forcucci featured many requests for objections based on relevancy, brought by the district’s attorney, Andrew Freedman, against questioning by defense Attorney Margaret Murphy’s questioning of Jetter.
A recent Supreme Court ruling stated that hearings involving testimony regarding Schrauth Forcucci must be public in nature. Three previous hearings that were not open to the public were held, and transcripts from those sessions was released to those in attendance.
Approximately 40 community members attended this week’s hearing. Board members had brought charges of official misconduct against Schrauth Forcucci in May, and prior dates of testimony had taken place May 27, May 28 and June 4. David Hoover, Esq. served as hearing officer.
At the hearing’s outset, Freedman attempted to have Murphy recuse herself over alleged inappropriate communication, regarding hearing related material, allegedly disseminated to individuals suggested to be board Vice President Sally Stephenson and outgoing Board Member Holly Ballaya.
Murphy responded that any communication conducted with such board members is completely ethical, adding that this was the fifth time Freedman’s accused her of such wrongdoing.
Cross-examination of Jetter revealed details of a Sept. 3, 2013 incident, in which Schrauth Forcucci allegedly confronted the superintendent and board President David Yoviene downtown near the Liberty Building, reportedly screaming in Jetter’s face and poking Yoviene in the chest. Jetter described these actions as threatening and intimidating. The actions were also reported to have occurred in front of former district attorney James Tresmond.
In another incident from last September, Schrauth Forcucci was described as having viewed and taken photographs of the personnel file of a district staffer, determined to be that of Melissa Miller.
Questions from this incident mushroomed into whether Schrauth Forcucci had or needed permission to view such files, as well as who investigated charges stemming from this incident. Inquiries related to the latter issues, Murphy said, are relevant in the overall scope of the investigation to the New York State Department of Education.
Other testimony focused on items such as the description of the breath or closeness of Schrauth Forcucci in relation to Jetter. Murphy also repeatedly questioned the general tone in which Jetter described Schrauth Forcucci’s “weird” demeanor in an incident that took place Sept. 24 at the Hamburg Administration Building.
In addition to Jetter, it was stated that Schrauth Forcucci had berated two other district employees via telephone calls.
It was alleged that in the Sept. 24 incident, Schrauth Forcucci used false pretense to obtain entry into the administration building=, stating she had a meeting with Jetter, after 5 p.m.
When Schrauth Forcucci entered Jetter’s office area, she reportedly demanded to see expense reports by former district law firm Harris Beach, files said to be encompassed in a 750-page document. When Jetter responded that district employees were working to accommodate Schrauth Forcucci’s request through compilation within a flash drive – to be finished in the near future – the board member was not satisfied and screamed in an unruly fashion that was not respectful of Jetter or other employees in general.
Despite reported requests of Jetter for Schrauth Forcucci to leave his office, it was stated that she did not do so and that Hamburg police were called to the scene.
“She was in my face, even after I asked her to leave and had [suggested] we call it a night,” said Jetter, who was shielded by a police officer from Schrauth Forcucci, during the incident. The superintendent added that Schrauth Forcucci’s actions led him to question what she could have done next, following a sarcastic statement once she entered his office. “She had a mission that evening. She wanted to see me, to [berate] me.”
Part of Murphy’s cross-examination focused on whether Jetter personally disliked Schrauth Forucci.
“I hate her actions,” Jetter said of Schrauth Forcucci’s alleged wrongdoing. “[Stated or printed negative accounts or perceptions of Hamburg] is an outright embarrassment.”
Another incident discussed during that meeting included district safety coordinator and Boston Valley Principal James Martinez’s complaint of hostile work environment against Schrauth Forcucci, Stephenson and Ballaya. A February incident yielded the complaint.
In a subsequent hearing on June 30, the assembled heard from Jetter’s wife, Jennifer.
She reported that, that night, Schrauth Forcucci was “very loud” when yelling at Martinez. She said that the board member was “unhinged” and out of control.
Union Pleasant Elementary Principal Jackie Pfeffer corroborated that claim.
Board President Laura Heeter also testified that, on several occasions, Schrauth Forcucci had to be asked to stop yelling, and that she had berated several people and gotten into the superintendent’s personal space.
In all, the hearings have taken about 20 hours over five sessions.
During the meeting, Stephenson also said she wanted to ask Jetter questions, and noted the size difference between the superintendent and Schrauth Forcucci. Jetter is about 5 feet, 11 inches tall.
Jetter said that when the board member yelled at him, she got so close that he could feel her spit on his face, although she did not intentionally spit on him.
“She is allowed to have a difference of opinion,” Jetter said, of Forcucci. “She is allowed to question us for the things that she believes she needs, as a board member. She is not allowed to get into my face. She is not allowed to poke the board president in the chest. She is not allowed to behave like that.”
Stephenson spoke about Jetter at length, prompting Board Member Thomas Flynn to reprimand her and remind her that the hearing was not intended as an attack on Jetter.
The superintendent said, during both hearings, that he had felt intimidated by Schrauth Forcucci, and that she acted differently on the street than she did during board meetings.
He also said that he felt Stephenson was also trying to intimidate him during the meetings, but that while he has disagreed with her and Balaya in the past, they did not get in his space the way Schrauth Forcucci had.
At the July 2 meeting, the hearings continued in much the same vein, as confidential secretary to the board Jennifer Lackie agreed that Schrauth Forcucci had "harassed her" on the phone, twice. She also blocked her exit from a school restroom in March. Calling her a "crazy lady," Lackie added, “You don’t treat people like that.”
Lackie told the assembled that the confrontations stemmed from the secretary's giving the board member's cell phone number to the state comptroller's office, and that Schrauth Forcucci was upset that Lackie had relayed the "upsetting" calls to the superintendent.
Also testifying were personnel clerk Sharon Matern and Board President David Yoviene. All testified that Schrauth Forcucci berated and/or verbally abused them on different occasions.
Wednesday was the sixth night of testimony. Schrauth Forcucci is facing 12 total charges for a “pattern of official misconduct.” The hearings are ongoing.