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Board: Malverne school trustee violated policies, not laws

A special investigator hired by the Malverne Board of Education to look into allegations that a board member harassed two district employees has determined that the trustee did not violate state or federal law but did break school district policies, according to documents from the board.

The board hired the Ingerman Smith law firm of Hauppauge in November to look into complaints that two employees had made against board member Gina Genti, who first was elected in May 2007. The investigation cost $8,000, according to the district's business administrator, Thomas P. McDaid Jr.

"I was satisfied with the investigation," board president Marguerite O'Connor said Friday. "I am sorry it came to that."

Genti, in an interview last week, said she wasn't allowed to see the investigation's findings.

Board policies have been "put in place specifically to prevent me from speaking up when I see things that aren't being done according to procedure and policy," Genti said. "They were created to stop me from talking to the media, stop me from talking to principals, and especially to stop me from talking to the people -- my constituents."

Genti said she will not seek re-election when her term expires in May. "I will have more power on the other side of the table," she said.

Subject of earlier review

The recently concluded investigation was the second time the board had hired Ingerman Smith to look into legal issues regarding Genti. A special investigator was hired in 2010 after school officials received a letter from Genti's attorney, O'Connor said. That investigation, which lasted more than a year, cost $42,000, she said.

Genti said the earlier investigation produced "no findings, no action, no results."

The district again hired the special investigator in response to two employees' written complaints that date to December 2011. Documents show that those complaints were by Lisa Ridley, the district clerk, and Spiro Colaitis, assistant superintendent for district operations.

Ridley filed her complaints in December 2011 and December 2012. She said in a recent interview that Genti repeatedly sent her "verbally abusive" emails.

Ingerman Smith's investigator, in a March 11 letter that the board sent to Ridley, called Genti's behavior "harmful and unwelcome" and found that "Ms. Genti's actions have violated numerous district policies."

Colaitis had filed two complaints with the district since December 2011, alleging that Genti attacked his personal integrity and credibility, documents show.

In the complaints, Colaitis said Genti criticized his hiring practices and business practices on a local blog. The complaints also alleged that Genti publicly assailed him, in a campaign to terminate or eliminate his position.

Genti also questioned Colaitis' integrity concerning his military leave, the complaint said. Colaitis is a captain in the Navy Reserve.

Results called 'troubling'

A March 11 letter from O'Connor to Colaitis said that "while we find the contents of the investigation troubling, we do not believe that Ms. Genti's conduct at this time rises to the level of discrimination or harassment as protected by federal and state law."

The letter said the investigator found that Genti made inappropriate inquiries about Colaitis' military leave, and said the board "expressly disapproves of Ms. Genti's conduct."

"I felt vindicated at their acknowledgment of the special investigator's findings that Genti violated numerous school board policies in her conduct against me," Colaitis said in an interview.

Genti, in an interview last week, said that Ridley serves as an officer of the board, and that she was seeking answers from Colaitis regarding spending and school projects.

She said that among the board policies that specifically targeted her was a requirement that any board member with questions about the district must submit them through the superintendent. Another, she said, was the designation of the superintendent as the district representative to speak to the media.

"I asked the hard questions and I got pushback from day one," Genti said.

In a separate action, Ridley recently filed a claim against Genti with the Nassau County Commission on Human Rights.

Margalie Rodriguez, supervisor of the commission's Investigation and Compliance Unit, said Thursday the agency has a complaint on file and it is at the beginning of the process.

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