Improper coercion

Two weeks ago, Acton Forum released the unredacted minutes to two secret executive session (ES) meetings of the AB Regional School Committee. The School Committee (SC) met to criticize Superintendent of Schools Glenn Brand's professional performance and to pressure him into resigning or risk being terminated. Since Dr. Brand did nothing wrong, according to the minutes, he held his ground and ended up resigning but with full salary and benefits for the remainder of his contract. To read the original article, click here:

The SC was very careful to insist on a mutual "non-disparagement" clause in the Separation Agreement which would effectively silence Dr. Brand from speaking out about his mistreatment. Had Brand complained about what happened and how he had been wronged, he would potentially risk the $200,000 salary they promised to pay him for not working, and could also lose his other benefits. I wish Dr. Brand had chosen to fight, but I don't have to pay his mortgage.

In a strange way, the secrecy that the SC now insists has been violated was necessary to hatch their plot. In fact, it was a requirement. By making a false and potentially damaging claim that Brand had mismanaged a situation which put "kids at risk," and doing so in private, they could hold making it public over Brand's head to coerce him into resigning rather than fighting. And then they could use the secrecy laws of executive sessions to hide their own misconduct. The SC banked on the fact that its misconduct would not be publicly revealed. Or so they thought.

Four current or former members of the School Committee engineered Brand's removal. They are Mary Brolin, Maria Neyland, Kristina Rychlik, and Amy Krishnamurthy. What they did may have started out with a (possibly) noble purpose: make sure we have the best leader for our school system. But that purpose changed when they decided to improperly force Brand out. And the line they crossed was improper coercion. Unfortunately for Acton and Boxborough voters, all the SC members bear some responsibility for whatever roles they have played in the drama that has unfolded, whether it was to not stand up to these bullies or to sit on the stage without objection as the SC leaders lied to the citizens at the May 24th meeting when describing why Dr. Brand was leaving AB.

The improper removal of the Superintendent started with the executive session meeting itself. Dr. Brand did not report to SC Chair Mary Brolin. She was free to speak with Brand and express her opinion about his performance directly to him, but she was not his boss. The entire SC was.

But the decision to call Dr. Brand before the full School Committee to force him to resign or be terminated for cause was distressingly improper, unethical, and wrong. The reason is because there was no valid triggering event. As the minutes show, Brolin (and others) had issues with Brand's performance and seemed to just be waiting for the chance to pounce on him. In their haste to take action before his contract would be renewed for another year, they did so improperly.

We know this was about Brand's performance and not the pretextual triggering event because the first ES turned into a performance evaluation, which is an impermissible justification for an ES since Superintendent performance reviews are to be done in public. (Any written documents on his job performance should become public. Acton Forum has requested all documents on Brand's 2017 performance review and the School has already missed the deadline to reply, but we will keep on them until they do.)

The pretext for the meeting was Dr. Brand's decision to consult the School's attorney about the circumstances of an alleged incident that had occurred nine years prior (well before Dr. Brand's arrival in the District.) Brolin's evidence was that Brand didn't call the School's attorney for advice on the same day he learned of an alleged incident, Friday, March 17, but waited until Monday, March 20th. After speaking with the attorney on that Monday, Dr. Brand removed a teacher from the classroom at the end of the day. Believe it or not, waiting over the weekend to consult the attorney was the pretext to call a secret ES to try to terminate Brand. Nevermind that the minutes allude to a valid reason for the delay and there were probably 10 other considerations that didn't make it into the minutes or that Brand may have considered but didn't bring up.

Claiming that Brand waiting too long to consult with the attorney, and that somehow that decision put kids at risk, is ludicrous. They even have an attorney opining that such a decision could be harmful to kids. What a bunch of hooey. If the teacher has been on the job for nine years, which is about 1,500 teaching days, waiting one day to make sure the right decision is being made is not unreasonable. Anybody can see that, except for the conspirators. At the ES meeting of May 2, Brolin admits that there isn't support on the SC to terminate Brand for cause based on this incident. She then repeats the threat of a letter of reprimand to be placed in his personnel file. Yet she takes no vote or poll of the members to determine if this threat is justified or not, or has the support of the majority of the SC or not.

The Committee then discusses over the next couple of hours whether to continue the public evaluation of the Superintendent, which is required annually by law and had already begun, and other aspects of his job performance. It was then suggested that this incident, any negative feedback, or the letter of reprimand could be avoided if Dr. Brand agreed to leave the district immediately rather than at the end of his contract in 14 months. In other words, he would professionally suffer unless he agreed to an immediate departure.

The Committee at the second ES then negotiated a mutual "non-disparagement" clause in Dr. Brand's Separation agreement, preventing him from speaking about the circumstances of his departure and the wrongdoing and coercion used by the SC and some of its members against him.

Holding the illegal executive session was instrumental in this plot because only then could the false accusations be made, with the entire Committee present, and then held over Dr. Brand's head as a threat of public exposure if he didn't resign effective immediately (June 30, 2017).

Had the SC followed the law and evaluated Dr. Brand publicly, this alleged incident would probably never have been mentioned. But by bringing it up in front of his employer (the SC) and continually threatening reprimands or possibly public exposure by insinuating that Brand didn't care about "predators" or "protecting children" as was alleged during the meeting, according to the minutes, Brand was placed in the unwinnable position of either resigning or possibly being publicly slandered.

The SC members who arranged these circumstances preferred another candidate to take over as Superintendent and may have promised this individual that they would work to oust Dr. Brand as soon as possible, perhaps within the six months timeframe that Brand could "resign" and not be publicly accused of wrongdoing. This succession plan is described in the article, The Plan unfolds, available here:

Instead, Brand decided to resign immediately and accept the SC offer to suspend the performance evaluation. Brand probably didn't want any hint of this incident to become public, not because he did anything wrong, but because he was afraid the conspirators on the SC would allege he did.

This accelerated timeframe may have caught the ringleaders by surprise. They weren't ready to appoint a new Superintendent and didn't have their ducks in order. According to the minutes, there was no discussion of succession planning. I think they were planning on a six-month timeframe and they had plenty of time to figure out how to install their chosen candidate, so they weren't concerned about the timing. But when Brand refused to resign and wouldn't agree to take six months of his annual contract, the SC had a problem. That's why they had to agree to pay him for the year. They didn't want what happened to become public so they were probably eager to avoid the annual evaluation as well.

Holding the threat of putting a letter of reprimand in his file or false accusations that he didn't care about the safety of the children in the School District was coercive enough to get Dr. Brand to ignore the 14 months remaining on his employment contract and leave without a public fight for his job, so long as they bought out his contract.

This type of coercion under a threat of releasing false and defamatory allegations which are untrue, is or should be, illegal. There is no doubt that it was wrongful, unethical, and improper.

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I continue to commend your efforts to make hold our select-people accountable. The dirt is fun reading and proves some of our elected officials even at the town level are not very trustworthy. Unfortunately, I do not believe all this hard work will amount to much. You might succeed in convincing some elected officials to resign (I doubt this will happen). You may have an impact on an election (I doubt this even more). Well done. You continue to show us where some of our officials are acting appallingly. Sadly, I doubt your efforts will result in any changes.