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Setting the Record Straight on My Remarks to New Rochelle Board of Education on August 23, 2016

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Setting the Record Straight on My Remarks to New Rochelle Board of Education on August 23, 2016

September 13, 2016 - 15:13
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In a recent public statement intended to discount and dismiss remarks I made to the New Rochelle Board of Education, Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne made numerous claims and omitted key facts in the matter of Scott Empara. I will get into the details below but for now let me say I have a wealth of evidence that proves that the narrative he (and Rachel Relkin two weeks earlier) presented to the public was inaccurate. I have made numerous requests that he and Board President Rachel Relkin correct the record in this regard. After three weeks of waiting, it has become clear that no such correction is forthcoming (they have refused to even respond to my requests) so I am left no choice but to defend myself and the integrity of my reporting.

I wish to avoid a protracted, unproductive public dialog and keep the focus where it belongs -- on the need to isolate then remove a dangerous employee working for the City School District of New Rochelle -- so, I will present just one example for now.

Dr. Osborne said about the District, "we pursue any allegations of wrongdoing aggressively and to the fullest extent of the law." 

No, they do not. This statement is false, generally, as has been demonstrated by Talk of the Sound on many occasions over the years but also specifically in the case of Empara.

On December 19, 2014 Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Joseph Williams called the New Rochelle Police Department to report that Scott Empara made threats to bring his guns to school and kill people if he were fired due to an investigation of his department, an investigation which I had instigated earlier that year. The police report covers two seperate incidents, one in September 2014 and one in Deember 2014.

The Narrative Section of the NRPD Incident Report reads (PDF linked):

JOE WILLIAMS STATED THAT AN EMPLOYEE BY THE NAME OF NI/EMPARA, WHO IS UNDER INVESTIGATION WITH HIS DEPARTMENT STATED THAT HE IS GOING TO SHOOT UP THE PLACE IF HE WAS FIRED. COMP FURTHER STATES THAT HE WAS ADVISED BY ANOTHER EMPLOYEE NI/ REDACTED THAT NI/EMPARA STATED TO HIM APPROXIMATELY THREE MONTHS AGO THAT THERE IS A NEW REIGN IN THE DISTRICT PEOPLE ARE LOSING THEIR JOBS AND IF I LOSE MY JOB, I’M GOING TO BRING MY GUN AND SHOOT UP THE PLACE, THERE IS A COUPLE OF PEOPLE HE IS GOING TO PUT A BULLET IN”. COMP FURTHER STATES THAT THE INCIDENT WAS BROUGHT TO THE SUPERINTENDENT AND JUST WISHES TO DOCUMENT. COMP DOES NOT WISH NRPD TO CONTACT NI/ EMPARA AT THIS TIME AND WILL CONTACT NRPD IF ANY PROBLEMS. VAC WAS ISSUED

Dr. Osborne was aware of the threats of violence in December 2014 but expressed a desire not to pursue the allegations of harassment and terroristic threats at all let alone “aggressively and to the fullest extent of the law”. Dr. Osborne did not even want the NRPD to talk to Empara let alone investigate the matter. When additional threats by Empara were reported four months later, the District did not follow up as promised (a police report was filed, but by an employee).

For those who wish to know more, continue reading, but this alone should be suffecient to poke a rather large hole in a key element in Dr. Osborne's claims.

No member of the New Rochelle Board of Education or official in the administration of the City School District of New Rochelle disputes that Empara is a danger to the health of children. It is why, on May 5, 2015, Dr. Osborne invoked Section 913 of New York State Education Law compelling Empara to undergo psychological testing, and it is why the school board voted unanimously to approve Dr. Osborne’s recommendation.

Despite this, Empara remains today an employee in good-standing with the District which allows him unfettered 24/7 access to every school building, the use of a school district vehicle, a private office with heated floors, and tens of thousands of dollars a year in overtime which make him one of the highest paid non-pedagogical staff in New Rochelle.

As I said, it has always been my hope to keep the focus where it belongs, on Empara’s menacing behavior. Certain school officials and their apologists have sought to make the issue about something else entirely — me. I have sought for weeks to convince school officials to stop promulgating a false narrative designed to muddy the water by casting aspersions on the integrity of my reporting. It has become apparent, based on comments posted on social media and communications gleaned from within the District, that their effort continues unabated despite numerous requests that they simply correct the record (that I did bring these issues forward many times) and stop pushing their false narrative (that they have conducted a “full investigation” of each allegation and “appropriate action has been taken”).

The full statement by Dr. Osborne, delivered at a meeting of the New Rochelle Board of Education on September 6th, reads as follows (emphasis added):

"At our last meeting, an allegation was made by a speaker about employee conduct at a facility that is rented by the school district but is not a school building or a facility attended by students. The allegation of misconduct dates back years and a full investigation was conducted into the matter. Please know that we take all allegations very seriously, and consult with law enforcement authorities whenever there are allegations of criminal activity. As this is a personnel issue, I will not discuss it any further in this forum but wanted to reassure the Board and the community that the safety of our students and staff is our first priority, that appropriate action has been taken, and that we pursue any allegations of wrongdoing aggressively and to the fullest extent of the law."

The District has never  "aggressively pursued and prosecuted wrongdoing" (e.g. child rape, employees electronically distributing a nude image of child, employees having sex with students, a gun brought onto a school bus and pointed at children, a board member misappropriating many thousands of dollars to pay for his own medical insurance, etc.) and that law enforcement are rarely "consulted" when there are "allegations of criminal activity" (any police official will tell you the District does all it can to keep the NRPD out of the schools) and that "the safety of students and staff" is not even a second priority let along a first priority (e.g., Webster ceiling collapse, Barnard intruder, failure to implement and follow the SAVE and RESCUE laws, that every school in the district was deemed “unsatisfactory” for health and safety failures which will require over $100 million to repair, etc.). And none of this is true with regards to "aggressively pursuing and prosecuting" Scott Empara.

Some, like school board member Jeffrey Hastie and New Rochelle High School Museum Director Theresa Kump Leghorn, have attempted to portray Dr. Obsorne’s September 6th statement as a reply to my article on Empara published that same day. It is not as is clear from even a cursory reading of the statement itself.

When Dr. Osborne says “at our last meeting” he means the meeting of August 23rd.

When Dr. Osborne says “a speaker” he means me, Robert Cox.

He is addressing my statement about Empara made at the school board meeting on August 23rd, not my article of September 6th which covers a much larger swath of Empara’s trail of destruction.

Dr. Osborne is pivoting off a false and misleading statement made by School Board President Rachel Relkin addressed to me after my remarks to the board on August 23rd. 

The video recording of my remarks to the board that night show Relkin called me back so she could admonish me, saying:

If, at any time, you have information that you believe we should have please give it to us immediately.

When I replied to her statement — an implication that I have deliberately withheld information about a dangerous situation in the school district — by stating “I did” and proceed to recount the many ways I did provide such information over the past 15 months, Ms. Relkin throws up her hands and shakes her head to the effect that she has no such information and is perplexed by my reply.

In fact, I have provided, via email, over 100 pages of Empara-related information to Dr. Osborne and Ms. Relkin including emails, photographs, contact information of witnesses, police reports and more as far back as December 2014. I also provided a tremendous amount of information to interim-Superintendent Jeffrey Korostoff and investigators from Vigilant Resources International in the summer of 2014. I have published numerous articles about Empara and provided a detailed research packet to the District Wide Health and Safety Committee this past summer.

It is difficult to imagine why Ms. Relkin would act as if she had never received such information about Empara or why Dr. Osborne would remain silent the night of August 23rd.

In his statement on September 6th, Dr. Osborne goes on to use the word “allegation”, singular not plural; he is referring to one specific “allegation” that was, as he described it, “years ago”. There is only one such “allegation” that fits that description of “years ago”, and its not an allegation, it is fact.

As I have reported, Anthony Rigos stated he made a report via school district email with photographs, using a District-issued phone, to his boss, John Gallagher, in January 2012. The report stated that Scott Empara was storing a large cache of weapons (rifles, shotguns and handguns) in Empara’s Grove Avenue office. Both Rigos and Gallagher were employees of Aramark working in New Rochelle at the time.

Regarding this 2012 weapons incident, Dr. Osborne says “a full investigation was conducted into the matter”.

No investigation was conducted at all, according to Rigos. A review of board resolutions turned up no disciplinary action taken against Empara. A Freedom of Information request shows no report was made to the New Rochelle Police Department.

Rigos has stated that after he referred the matter to Gallagher, there was a discussion involving Gallagher and Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration John Quinn during which, over Rigos’ objections, Gallagher and Quinn decided to take no action and bury the matter. Empara has since removed the weapons from his Grove Avenue office, according to administration sources. This incident was reported to Korostoff and VRI in 2014 and to Osborne, Relkin and Lianne Merchant in 2015.

The actions I have mentioned (weapons, gun ammunition, pornography and threats of violence) are not, shockingly, grounds for dismissal under current District policy. The purpose of my remarks on August 23rd was to recommend a change to board policy so that Empara’s conduct would be grounds for immediate dismissal in the future. I believe no employee should be allowed to bring weapons, gun ammunition, or pornography into the workplace or make specific or general threats of violence. This requires a change in board policy which is why I addressed my views to the board.

My address to the school board was not precipitous. I have been raising issues about Empara’s conduct for several years, including numerous published articles, radio interviews, meetings with school officials and detailed discussions with private investigators hired by the District in 2014.

During my remarks on August 23rd I referenced three “allegations” not “an allegation”: (1) a 2012 incident in which a large cache of weapons was found in Empara's Grove Avenue office; (2) three separate incidents, based on police reports for incidents in September 2014, December 2014 and April 2015, where Empara threatened violence against specific individuals and to shoot up or blow up New Rochelle High School, and; (3) the discovery of gun ammunition, related material and pornographic magazines at his workbench in May 2015.

Dr. Osborne opened his statement by claiming, as if it makes a difference, that 88 Grove Avenue is a “facility that is rented by the school district” as an effort to explain, in part, why no action was taken against Empara. According to New Rochelle Property Records, 88 Grove Avenue was purchased by the City School District of New Rochelle in 2005.

New Rochelle Property Records for 88 Grove Avenue

 Dr. Osborne states “appropriate action has been taken”.

No action at all was taken regarding the discovery of weapons in Empara’s office in 2012. Dr. Osborne was not employed by the District at the time (he was hired in 2014) and has no direct knowledge of what took place; the entire incident was covered up by Gallagher and Quinn.

On May 12, 2015, when the gun ammunition and pornography was discovered at Grove Avenue, Empara was already under suspension from the April 30, 2015 incident involving threats of violence. No further disciplinary action was taken on the pornographic magazines. The District did informally report the gun ammunition matter to the New Rochelle Police  (there is no Incident Report) but the NRPD declined to pursue the matter because there is no applicable criminal statute. No disciplinary action was taken against Empara on the gun ammunition incident.

I believe this article is sufficient to demonstrate that Dr. Osborne was referencing my remarks to the board on August 23rd not my article of September 6th, that Grove Avenue is owned by the District, and that Dr. Osborne not only did not pursue “allegations of wrongdoing aggressively and to the fullest extent of the law” but actively discouraged the New Rochelle Police Department from conducting an investigation into threats of violence which the District reported in December 2014.

I am prepared to continue to provide many more examples, including copies of extensive emails sent to school officials by me as well as District employees complaining about Empara’s behavior, additional police reports, more photos, and much more. I would prefer Dr. Osborne and Ms. Relkin simply issue a statement correcting the record, noting that I have brought this information forward, many times and that, as indicated above, investigations were not done and criminal matters were not pursued to the fullest extent of the law.

Once they have done so, the focus needs to return to the real priority — isolating then terminating Scott Empara.

The District has convinced itself (mostly through the efforts of Jeff Kehl) that their hands are tied by New York State Civil Service Law. This can only be true, if it is true, with regard to suspension and termination. There is nothing in the law that requires Scott Empara to have a private office, heated floors, tens of thousands of dollars in overtime, a key fob with 24/7 access to every school, keys to a work van and more. Until he can be terminated, he should be isolated from students and staff by taking away his keys and private office, restricting him to a common area of Grove Avenue and monitoring his movements throughout the work day.