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Monday, April 30, 2012

Public has right to see Ebel report

Telegraph Editorial

In the course of a week, the members of the Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District went from being in the middle of a scandal to becoming a scandal themselves.

Superintendent of Schools Trevor Ebel resigned last week after an audit found inappropriate expenses charged to the School District credit card.

The School Board discussed Ebel’s resignation and a report detailing the suspect credit card expenses and payroll advances in nonpublic session Tuesday night.

The board not only sealed minutes of the nonpublic session, it sealed the report, hiding it from public review.

The public, asking for answers, was told the investigation into “an employee” was complete.

“Trust the people you’ve elected,” School Board Chairman Geoff Brock said.

Let us repeat this very basic tenet that too many elected officials forget, or worse, never learn: Trust is built through openness, not secrecy.

If School Board members want to rebuild the public’s trust, they should release the attorney’s report and answer every single question from the public.

Back in March, the school hired attorney Dean B. Eggert, of Wadleigh, Starr & Peters, to look into the inappropriate spending on the school district credit card.

Specifically, Eggert was charged with investigating “the extent to which receipts were tendered for inappropriate expenses, such as movie purchases, alcohol and limousine services,” “the extent to which credit card disbursements were inappropriate,” and “the extent to which the district credit card was used by the employee for personal items.”

At the same meeting, Brock declared, “Our board likes to have the facts.”

Yet, as the board sealed Eggert’s report Tuesday night, Brock may just as well have said, “Our board doesn’t like the public to have the facts.”

This is public money that was being spent on alcohol, limousines, hotel room movies and pricey meals at some of the best restaurants in the country. The public deserves to know the outcome of the investigation, which they also paid for.

And that unnamed employee they keep referring to is Ebel. He had possession of the School District credit card. The card bore his name. The receipts, including two for limousine rides of $145 and $170, were signed by him.

A Telegraph review of the credit card spending and receipts also revealed:

 • $724.35 for a meal at the McCormick & Kuleto’s Seafood Restaurant, including $123.75 for alcohol, when seven educators traveled to San Francisco.

 • $48 for a lunch for one person at The Cheesecake Factory in San Francisco that included two Ultimate Margaritas at $12 each. The lunch lasted 45 minutes and was on the second day of a three-day conference.

 • $894.14 for a meal for 14 at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Boston. Despite the fact that only 11 teachers were enrolled at the educational conference, the restaurant served 14 people that night.

How much of that has been paid back? Who knows.

And now, by refusing to release Eggert’s report, the School District is facing a lawsuit from the state’s largest newspaper to release it.

If the board chooses to fight the suit, it will squander even more taxpayer money trying to hide what should have been laid bare all along.

Do the right thing, folks. Rebuild the public’s trust in your School District by releasing the report and answering the public’s questions.