Ethics Commission May Decide School Web Page Dispute

The state’s Ethics Commission may have the final say on whether citizens believed a Facebook page was an official school department page.

Former Haverhill School Committeewoman Kerry Fitzgerald filed the complaint Monday morning. She listed School Committeewoman Maura Ryan-Ciardiello as the only “person of interest” and noted Ryan-Ciardiello is an elected and paid city official. Fitzgerald attached a copy of her Sunday email (reproduced below) to Mayor James J. Fiorentini, school Superintendent James F. Scully and school committee members Joseph J. Bevilacqua, Susan Danehy and Paul A. Magliocchetti.

“I believe there is no question but that this is meant to fool people into believing it is a HPS site,” Fitzgerald said. She referred specifically to the Facebook page’s description, “We are Haverhill Public Schools and the pride of Merrimack Valley.”

Others Distance Themselves from Fitzgerald's Allegations

Schools Superintendent James F. Scully and School Committeeman Scott Wood confirmed Monday the “Parents Group” page has no connection to the Haverhill Public Schools. Wood argued, however, most people are not confused.

“It is a parent group, and any parent has the right to start a group on Facebook. It has nothing to do with the Haverhill Public Schools servers, any of our website addresses, any of our e-mail addresses. Nothing. Zero,” he said.

He said past “false allegations” by Fitzgerald hurt the school system by costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars to defend. He added, Fitzgerald’s allegations are “last minute, day before the election, sleazy politics at its best.”

“This is the reason why people don’t want to get involved in politics, it’s due to outrageous claims. They’re simply not based on any facts. And let me further point out, that the only school committee member that I can think of, during their time, that ever used Haverhill Public Schools resources to further their own campaign, or a campaign of their friends, was Mrs. Fitzgerald, who used the schools’ e-mail servers to benefit the campaign of some of her friends.”

In rebutting Fitzgerald’s claims, Wood said he is not involved with Ryan-Ciardiello’s campaign for Governor’s Councilor, but does back her in-law’s bid for state senate.

“I’m an Independent. I am not a Democrat or a Republican. And I stated publicly that my opinion is that, for Haverhill residents, the best choice would be the candidate coming from the City of Haverhill, in Mr. Toohey. And I make that decision on the basis of being a Haverhill elected official, and a Haverhill resident, who I think can deliver more for the City of Haverhill.”

Toohey is also a member of the Facebook group.

The full text of Fitzgerald’s email

Good Afternoon All.

I received two phone calls this morning from people concerned about Haverhill Public Schools (HPS) Parent Group Facebook page and a ton of email and Facebook messages. That’s the page I’ve been experiencing problems with since Friday night. I need to tell you that I had no desire to be back involved with this kind of ugly politics. I was OUT of the school committee stuff and happy to be so.. I’ve been very happy with my family, friends, new business and life and general. I wasn’t in the least bit interested in getting back involved. I’d still be happily going along if it were not for the fact that a post of mine was removed from a group that I thought was part of the Haverhill Public Schools. You can thank Maura Ryan for dragging me back into the political arena and for this email.

For those of you who have seen my Facebook posts from Friday and yesterday, this story is much bigger than what I originally thought, and it’s not about me. It is about a politician (or more than one) who is misrepresenting a social media site as an official Haverhill Public School site and using it for their own political purposes. For those of you who haven’t seen my posts, you only need to know that many of us believe there is a blatantly political scheme being conducted by what inaccurately appears to be the Haverhill Public Schools.

Even worse… this morning I was told that this is the third time a Facebook site misrepresented itself as an HPS official sites and was administered by elected officials or their family member or representatives.

I became aware of this problem when one of my posts was deleted from the HPS Parent Group site. When that post was removed I learned through the process that the page was administered by Maura Ryan and not the HPS. Everyone I have spoken with either via email, Facebook or phone said they also believed the HPS Parent Group was an official Haverhill Public School social media page.

This morning I was told that earlier Friday (the same day as my post), another person posted on the HPS Parent Group that he did not support Shaun or Maura. His posting was removed and the privacy settings for the page were changed to private. By Saturday, he and I were both removed as members of the group. (In other words, if you express an opinion contrary to the administrator of this site, your posting is deleted and you are removed as a member of this HAVERHILL PUBLIC SCHOOLS site). I was also told that the Charter School topic (the one to which I responded) became too “hot” and the entire thread was removed. The entire thread related to the topic the other man spoke to was also deleted. I just tried to call up that page on Facebook just to see what the description says and it seems to have disappeared, although it was there last night. I was told the description of the site clearly indicated that it was a HPS sponsored site.

One of the people who called me this morning told me this is not the first Facebook page that was misrepresented as a HPS page by an elected official or their representative during a campaign period. I was told that during the election where Gene Z was running for school committee a Facebook page called HPS SOS was also used for political purposes with the same results and the same censorship. Although it began as a positive HPS page, as the election came closer, postings became more and more political. One post had a video of me calling Mrs. Victor a bitch and the comment was that Gene Z was my friend and therefore he would do the same. I did not, and do not, know Gene Z at all. I met him once at a political event. I was told by two people this morning that any time anyone wrote anything against Shaun or Maura on that HPS SOS page, the posting was deleted. If the topic became too hot, the thread was deleted. When the election was over, the page was deleted.

I was told that during the Hunking activity period, there was a second Facebook page called HPS Hunking or something like that. The site again started out with positive chatter but the closer it came to the election (the previous senate election) the more it focused on politics. Again, anyone who didn’t agree with what had been written or criticized Shaun was deleted and removed from the site. Again, when a topic became too hot, the thread was removed and when the election was over the page was removed.

This is the third. All three, I was told, were entitled HPS and then whatever, each subtly or not so represented itself as a HPS supported or sponsored site.

This is not only illegal, it is an example of the worst kind of politics. I am not going to speculate about who is involved other than Maura, but I am sure you can imagine what those of us who have heard this story think. This is a very, very bad thing for Haverhill.

As mayor, I believe you have a responsibility to address this. I would hope you will acknowledge that to me in a personal email.

As superintendent, I believe you also have a responsibility to ensure it never happens again and that the people who have done this are asked to explain in public. The only HPS site on Facebook should be officially sanctioned and administered by the Haverhill Public Schools with rules about political usage.

As school committee members who have integrity, I believe you should know this. Please let me know that you received this. I do not expect you to express your opinion. My goal is to just keep you informed.

I’ve sent it to Joel Rosen because he was my lawyer on a previous case and he is an excellent one. If legal action comes to me because of this, I would ask him to represent me.

Finally, I am no longer a public figure. I care about ethics and I care about fairness and I care about our city. This is just so very wrong. It hurts our community, our children and our school. It is the most vile and disgusting sort of self-serving politics. I will be taking this on as my own personal cause as far as I can take it.

Thanks. Sorry that this problem is facing Haverhill and that I was the one to discover it.

Kerry Fitzgerald

6 thoughts on “Ethics Commission May Decide School Web Page Dispute

  1. I heard Mr. Wood last night and I also disagree on a couple of things. If the site was set up to misrepresent itself, that is wrong. If the site deletes posts unacceptable to one specific side, that is wrong also. To look at the site, it looks official. Having being administered and controlled by an “elected official” is also wrong on its face. This has damaged the whole process and sadly, people have lost faith in our elected officials.

    Then there is his argument that Haverhill needs a Senator. MR. Woods reasoning is that the previous senator Haverhill had did a lot for Haverhill. That’s because he HAD CLOUT as he was a DEMOCRAT in a DEMOCRAT controlled legislature. MR Toohey will have NO CLOUT if elected. MR. Bevilaqua was also a DEMOCRAT. If MR. Wood cannot figure that one out, then we are in real trouble with him as an elected official.

    • Haverhill could certainly use a Senator. But, do we want to gain one by using dirty politics? What does that say about our City Government in general? Use your heads when you speak!

  2. If a group states the word “Haverhill” then schools and parent group, people will assume, right or wrong, that this is a group for parents to bring issues and discuss with others. And, most are going to believe it is within the school’s jurisdiction. My question is this: how does a school committee member, Maura Ryan Ciardello, get to pick and choose which parents partake in this group? Clear conflict of interest!

  3. Scott, I respectfully disagree with your following line of thought: “…the “Parents Group” page has no connection to the Haverhill Public Schools. Wood argued, however, most people are not confused. ‘It is a parent group, and any parent has the right to start a group on Facebook. It has nothing to do with the Haverhill Public Schools servers, any of our website addresses…’”

    I thought I was joining a group of Haverhill Public Schools – Parents, not a family political page that blocks those who are NOT voting for the Ryans/Tooheys running for elections. These pols are tone deaf as they shut down folks who have a different opinion. That’s behavior exactly the opposite of successful civil servants such as Menino.

    Blaming the messenger to change the subject is NOT common sense. It’s an old strategy and pretty much everyone’s been there, done that hundreds of years ago. In my opinion.

  4. The social media site in question identifies itself as: “We are the Haverhill Public Schools and the pride of the Merrimack Valley.” In my opinion, it is deliberately misleading citizens.

    Scott Wood knows that what he is saying about me is untrue. Rumor has it that Mr. Wood has been promised the position of Chief of Staff if Mr. Toohey is elected to the Senate and may be reacting this way because fears this issue may impact Mr. Toohey’s chances to get elected. My criticism is in no way about Mr. Toohey. As far as I know, he is not part of this.

    On both topics I ask Mr. Wood to bring proof of his allegations. He cannot do that though because they aren’t rrue.

    On the first topic I made no false accusations about anyone or anything that caused me to be sued. There was a lawsuit that was found to be without merit through two appeals and then dismissed. It began with a school committee member releasing a confidential email asking other school committee members to be careful when speaking publicly about a former staff member. I suspect you know who that is Mr. Wood.

    On the second comment, I don’t even know what Mr. Wood is talking about. I never used the school web server for anything, never mind to further my own campaign or a campaign of my friends. I have my own email address and never used the one assigned to me as a school committee member. If I ever sent anything out supporting a candidate, it was from my own email account which was through Verizon, not the Haverhill Public Schools.

    I’m out of politics and intend to stay that way. This is not about politics it is about doing what’s right for our city, our children and our schools.