Complaints lodged against Pioneer School Committee member

  • The Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee intends to discuss complaints of unprofessional conduct by one of its members during its next regular meeting on Dec. 12. Staff Photo/Zack DeLuca

Staff Writer
Published: 11/22/2019 6:01:37 PM
Modified: 11/22/2019 6:01:24 PM

NORTHFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee intends to discuss complaints of unprofessional conduct by one of its members during its next regular meeting on Dec. 12.

The complaints were lodged against David Young, and were made by fellow committee members Sharon Fontaine and Mike Townsley, as well as district Finance Director Tanya Gaylord. The written complaints cite “concerns about the aggressive behavior” and “actions made by” Young during a Budget Subcommittee meeting and full School Committee meeting on Sept. 12.

During its most recent meeting on Nov. 14, the School Committee began an executive session to discuss the complaints, with Young then exercising his right to open the executive session to the public. However, the committee did not have enough copies of the complaints for all its members to review at the time, and decided to postpone a full, formal conversation of the complaints until the Dec. 12 meeting.

In an email to School Committee Chair Kristen Gonzalez on Sept. 23, Fontaine wrote that Young had spoken “harshly and extremely loud” to Gaylord during the Sept. 12 meeting.

“He got up from the meeting table and took a few steps back, then crossed his arms and looked down at her with a scowling look on his face,” Fontaine said. “He demeaned her job performance and discredited her work during that meeting.”

Fontaine went on to say that Young had also winked at her during the full committee meeting “as though we had a secret or a special understanding about something.”

“I have no such secret or special understanding with him on any subject or issue, and want him to stop this behavior,” she said.

Townsley wrote to Gonzalez on Sept. 16, saying Young’s actions in September did not meet standards and norms for committee members, and that “all employees of the district have a right to be treated with professionalism.”

“His verbal outburst and attack on the finance director was unacceptable,” Townsley said.

Townsley also said Young had emailed him to ask who put past discussion regarding the potential closure of Warwick Community School on the committee’s agenda, and that the question should have been directed to Gonzalez.

In her own letter to Gonzalez on Oct. 7, Gaylord said Young removing himself from the table during meetings was an example of “repeated violations of School Committee norms.” She also said that Young’s participation as a School Committee member and his work alongside the Warwick Education Committee — which seeks to make Warwick Community School into a Horace Mann II Conversion School — is a conflict of interest and raises concern about ethics violations.

State Ethics Commission spokesperson Gerry Tuoti said he could neither confirm or deny if the commission had received a complaint, adding that if it had, the commission is not allowed to discuss ongoing situations.

According to the commission’s website, the conflict of interest law generally prohibits a municipal employee (paid or unpaid, appointed or elected, full-time or part-time) from having a financial interest, directly or indirectly, in a contract made by an agency of the municipality in which he or she serves. However, the law also provides numerous exemptions.

The website explains that “a municipal employee may offer advice to others and may help plan strategies, as long as his or her activity does not reach the level of ‘acting as agent.’

“Municipal employees may represent advocacy groups or other parties in order to draft, promote or oppose general legislation, or legislation related to their municipalities’ governmental organization, powers, duties, finances or property,” the State Ethics Commission website continues. Additionally, acting on one’s own behalf is not considered acting as agent; a municipal employee may always represent his or her own interests or points of view.

Gaylord ended her complaint by saying that Young should be removed from the School Committee. During its Nov. 14 meeting, Young argued that calling for his removal is a violation of State Ethics Commission regulations. Tuoti said he could not comment specifically on whether Gaylord asking for Young’s removal was a violation of ethics laws.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.


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