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Decision No. 13,035

Appeal of DONALD R. HENNING and ANNE ROHRER from action of Patricia Ruppar, a member of the Board of Education of the Williamsville Central School District in relation to action as a board member.

Decision No. 13,035

(November 2, 1993)

Duke, Holzman, Yaeger & Photiadis, Esqs., attorney for respondent, Gregory P. Photiadis, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioners seek an order directing respondent to cease disclosing confidential information allegedly obtained as a member of the Board of Education of the Williamsville Central School District. The appeal must be dismissed.

While the allegations in the petition are unclear and difficult to understand, it appears that petitioners and respondent are all members of the Board of Education of the Williamsville Central School District. During the spring of 1993, the Williamsville board was seeking a new superintendent after the sudden death of the former superintendent. On or about June 6, 1993, respondent wrote to several local newspapers, complaining that six members of the Williamsville board, including petitioners, "meet together in private caucuses and then come to board meetings with their minds already made up." Respondent also stated in her letter that the six board members were acting as a bloc in the selection of a new superintendent, that the board had interviewed finalists for the position at an airport outside of the district, that one of the finalists was personally known by one of the board members and that the finalist seemingly favored by the bloc of six board members did not have the requisite experience to be the superintendent for the Williamsville district.

Petitioners contend that respondent's letter was a disclosure of confidential information discussed in executive sessions of the board. Petitioners also contend that many of the allegations in the letter are false. Petitioners further maintain that respondent's disclosure violates General Municipal Law '805-a(1)(b) and they request that respondent be censured.

As a threshold matter, the Commissioner is without authority to order the relief requested. While the Commissioner of Education is authorized pursuant to Education Law '306 to remove a board member from office for willful misconduct or neglect of duty, no provision of the Education Law permits the Commissioner to censure or reprimand a board member (Appeal of Silano, 33 Ed Dept Rep 20; Appeal of Brousseau, 31 id. 155; Matter of Legatos, 23 id. 10).

Even if such relief were available, petitioners have not shown that they are entitled to it. General Municipal Law '805-a(1)(b) provides that a school board member may not disclose confidential information acquired in the performance of official duties or use such information to further his or her personal interests. While that statute clearly prohibits a board member from disclosing confidential information obtained at an executive session of a meeting of a board, that is not what happened in this case. First, there is no evidence that the information at issue was disseminated at an executive session. Moreover, the fact that a number of board members may meet privately, vote as a bloc, meet outside the district or favor a particular candidate personally known to a board member, whether true or false, is not confidential information, but rather a matter of public interest. Other than petitioners' mere assertion that respondent has disclosed confidential information, they offer no legal basis for supporting that contention. Accordingly, petitioners' appeal is without merit.