Board members Sally Stephenson and Holly Balaya, with backs to camera, express their displeasure with the decision, as board president Dave Yoviene, looks at them as they speak. The Hamburg school board decided to charge Catherine Schrauth Forcucci with official misconduct after an executive session behind closed doors at Union Pleasant Elementary School in Hamburg on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)
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The attempt to remove an elected official on charges that weren’t shared with the public and won’t be aired at an open hearing sounds like it should be happening in a police state. It’s not.

This is the Hamburg Central School Board, which charged one of its members last week with official misconduct, but refused to make the specific charges public. The Buffalo News obtained a copy of the misconduct charges and published them in a story Sunday.

Without that, residents of that community, and for that matter all of Western New York, would just have had to take board members at their word that this is a person who has to be dealt with behind closed doors.

Where are we, exactly? Oh, that’s right. Hamburg. Not the old Soviet Union. Hard to tell by the School Board’s recent action. Many in the audience stood and applauded at the end of the meeting in which the board voted 4-2 to bring charges of misconduct against Catherine Schrauth Forcucci. If found guilty, she could be removed from office.

It may be that Schrauth Forcucci is the singular destructive force on a dysfunctional School Board. It seems implausible, but we’re not judging her conduct. What is disturbing is the manner in which her attempted ouster is being handled. Not by the voters at School Board elections but with charges brought in secret. This is not how a School Board or any other public board ought to behave.

Margaret Murphy is serving as Schrauth Forcucci’s attorney. Murphy told a News reporter that Schrauth Forcucci has a right to refute charges brought against her, and, “We want that done in an open forum.”

Murphy’s request is at odds with the opinion of Andrew J. Freedman, the attorney for the district. He said after the meeting that the board will not make the charges public, and Schrauth Forcucci does not have the right to an open hearing.

Schrauth Forcucci did not attend the meeting in which charges were brought. Murphy said she could not vote on the charges because they involve her and therefore there was no reason to be at the meeting.

Freedman insists that members of the community should just trust the board to do the right thing. That disregard for the public feels like a patronizing pat on the head given to an annoying child.

This district has been embroiled in controversy. There’s the release of a secret audio recording of an executive session in 2010 and the election of three new board members, including Schrauth Forcucci, last May. The abrupt resignation of Superintendent Steven A. Achramovitch was followed by the new board placing him on administrative leave and hiring a new attorney last July. Then the majority on the board changed its mind and another law firm was hired.

Throw in the parent-formed Hamburg Education Information that actively pursued the removal of Schrauth Forcucci and Board Members Sally Stephenson and Holly Balaya and the entire episode could be pitched as a reality TV show.

We don’t know if Schrauth Forcucci is guilty of the misconduct charged. We do know that residents deserve to hear the full story, in public, so they can decide for themselves.

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