EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 4, 2013

Editorial: Personnel foul by North Andover school officials

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — A foul stench surrounds the firing of North Andover High School football coach John Rafferty. And it’s only getting worse as school officials refuse to provide answers to clear the air.

Rafferty was abruptly fired Jan. 25 by Principal Carla Scuzzarella and Athletic Director Jon Longley.

Rafferty had served as coach for 12 years, compiling a record of 81-49, for a very respectable win percentage of .623. If he were an NFL coach, that would put him just behind Bill Belichick.

Since he was shown the door, current and former players, parents and fans have come forward to testify to his character and leadership. Our Sound Off and comments features have been swamped with praise, with nary a dissenter. Hundreds and hundreds have signed pro-Rafferty petitions and “friended” a Facebook protest page. Signs are popping up around town, as Sports Editor Bill Burt reported yesterday.

So why was Rafferty fired? We don’t really know.

Rafferty, taking the high road, says he is moving on and won’t comment. “I’m not about being involved in controversy,” he told Burt.

School officials claim they can’t talk about the firing because it’s a “personnel” matter.

This is utter nonsense. The “personnel” exemption to public disclosure laws was meant to protect the privacy of public employees when it comes to deeply personal matters -- medical and family records, for example.

It was never intended to cover, or cover up, information about the performance of an official’s or an employee’s public duties. The people who pay their wages -- the taxpayers -- have a right to know how their employees are doing and what they are getting for their money.

When a Lawrence cop was suspended last week for allegedly assaulting another officer on the job, the public was told about it. The public didn’t expect, or want, the results of his last physical or his Social Security number.

Why is North Andover’s government less transparent than Lawrence’s?

School officials can try to hide the truth. They can also try to stop their own people from talking about it, issuing gag orders and, reportedly, forbidding staffers from signing the pro-Rafferty petitions.

Fortunately, they can’t stop the public at large from talking about it -- though they’ve tried to do so by blocking attempts to put the matter on the School Committee agenda.

Another meeting is set for tonight. School Committee members will cover themselves in shame if they again refuse to listen to the legitimate concerns of their constituents.

Nor can school officials suppress speculation about what was behind the firing.

There are two common theories: that Rafferty disciplined the “wrong” players and that he was ousted to make room for a crony from the Beverly school system, where Scuzzarella and Longley made their bones. The job is in the bag, some say.

Yes, something is rotten in North Andover and the only way to clear the air is for school officials to tell the truth.

But, one way or another, sooner or later, the truth will come out.