A routine Board of Education meeting took an unexpected turn Wednesday night when two board members took the unusual action of reading aloud statements that said they feel intimidated by the board and its attorney as a consequence of raising a certain "delicate" and "serious" issue in October.
Members Dennis Pavlik and Ana Vander Woude said they fear they are now at risk for being slapped with ethics violations, and for being sued -- and now must take steps to defend themselves and their families.
At the conclusion of their statements, which was followed by an awkward silence, Board President Barbara Garrity and Board Attorney Martin Barger said they could not comment on their allegations, because the matter involves personnel -- meaning the board members. But Garrity offered that "reasonable people can have different interpretations" of how the board attorney described the legal pitfalls of a certain course of action.
After the meeting, Garrity said the un-named issue they brought to attention was "investigated and dealt with." She did not describe what it was. [On Thursday afternoon, she issued a more detailed statement.]
In his statement, Pavlik said that in October he and two other elected board members raised, in good faith, "a sensitive personal matter in central office" while being mindful of proper procedures and protocol. "We did the right thing for our taxpayers and our school district," he said.
The full board has since met and now Pavlik says he was told he, Vander Woude and an unnamed third colleague who participated in the initial meeting can be sued for "libel, slander, defamation of character and malicious prosecution."
"We were told the board indemnity insurance did not cover board members outside the scope of their duties, and most homeowners insurance policies do not cover this," Pavlik said. "We would be responsible for this. It was mentioned multiple times, making me feel very uncomfortable."
"I feel now compelled to explore what is available to me in order to protect me and my family's best interest," Pavlik said.
In her statement, Vander Woude said she needed to air these concerns publicly because she no longer felt comfortable doing so in executive session.
"The three of us were presented with what we believed was a very delicate and serious issue concerning the district," said Vander Woude. "We knew that by raising it, it would unquestionably be volatile. It would have been very easy to do nothing. However, we truly believe, and continue to believe, that it is our duty and obligation as board members to raise such issues in the interest of the public."
"We can never forget the lessons learned from Brookdale Community College and Penn State and the failure of their boards to act."
Vander Woude said thay she is in disbelief and shock of being accused in subsequent meetings to having "ulterior negative motives."
"We were told that our actions were vicious, self-serving, designed to shame and humiliate," she said.
"We have now been placed to fear that we will be held personally liable for raising our concerns. I had to tell my husband that our personal assets were at risk. Additionally, we were told that ethics charges would be filed. I feel I have no choice now but to explore what avenues are available to me in order to protect my family."
As of Nov. 28, no ethics charges have been filed, said Barger after the meeting.
Of the nine-member board, two members, Ray Tai and Phyllis Pascucci, were absent for Wednesday night's meeting at the Satz Library.
No other board members spoke on the issue. Several members of the public observed the meeting, but none made any comments to the board.
Correction: This article was updated at 12:30 p.m. Thursday to correct Board member Dennis Pavlik's quote. He said he feared he was at risk at being sued for "malicious prosecution," not "religious" prosecution.