Balancing public, private information

There are a lot of questions flying around these days, and the answers are proving all too hard to come by.

We recognize the need to protect individual privacy, especially when it comes to contentious issues. But we equally value the public’s right to know. These divergent forces have been in play recently in a handful of stories, two of which revolve around the unusual exits of prominent public employees and another that could have had a tragic ending.

In all three cases, we’re left with far more questions than answers. And in the spirit of open dialogue, the following is a collection of questions we feel people ought to know.

A loaded gun found at ConVal

By all accounts, this was a serious situation that required a thoughtful and immediate response. From what we can tell, Peterborough Police and ConVal officials helped defuse what has certainly become the public’s worst nightmare. According to police and school reports, a student came to school with a loaded gun on Oct. 23. Students alerted a teacher, who alerted school staff, who then called police. The 14-year-old Peterborough boy in possession of the gun was then taken into custody. The response as it unfolded sounds like a textbook effort. But two weeks later, we really have few new details to go on. What we’re left with is a whole lot of rumor and speculation, and an inability to properly gauge whether this was a tragedy averted or simply a severe case of bad judgment by a naive teen.

The boy’s name has not been released, and that is fine by us. Unless the boy is charged as an adult, we won’t publish the name. But there are questions that should be answered that will help us all understand the severity of the situation, the appropriateness of the punishment, and the overall safety of our students. All without compromising the boy’s identity.

Some questions:

∎ What kind of weapon did he have? (Not all handguns are created equal and knowing the type of firearm brought to school would go a long way to understanding intent.)

∎ Do police or school officials believe the teen intended to use the gun, or was he merely bringing it for show? Just hours after the incident, police said they didn’t see any indications of aggressive behavior? Has further investigation changed this?

∎ Where did he get the gun? Was it from home? Did he steal it? Or did he receive it from someone else? Is it right to assume he knew it was loaded?

∎ Was the boy distraught, or did he have any recent contact with school counselors?

∎ Has he been expelled? We assume the answer to be yes based on school officials’ statements that they followed state and federal policy. Yet they’ve stopped short of saying, yes, he was expelled for a year.

∎ Conceivably, this student will eventually return to ConVal. What steps will be taken to ensure for both his safety and the safety of others?

∎ Have any new measures or processes been put in place at ConVal, at any other schools or at the Police Department? What was learned from this situation that can help us prepare for future emergencies?

Where’s the town administrator?

It’s been three weeks since Carlotta Pini was last on the clock as Rindge town administrator. Little has come out about her exit, and we still don’t know whether it was a termination or a resignation. At this point, the town has yet to fill the position or even post a job opening.

Pini has been at the center of her fair share of controversies within the town, and there were certainly those in the community who questioned her positions — and her salary. But taxpayers ought to know why their highest paid employee is no longer with the town, and what led to her exit.

All quiet on AD front

This is another story that broke quite a while ago, and has since been followed by silence from all angles. ConVal Athletic Director Jon Hall resigned suddenly on Sept. 30 just days after coaching the boys soccer team, coordinating the school’s Homecoming festivities, and presiding over the annual Hall of Fame ceremony. His assistant, Mel Keeler, resigned the same day, though initially no one would quite say why.

Questions were raised and rumors swirled. Then ConVal disclosed that there had been a funding-related investigation and that as much as $1,000 intended to support student activities was missing.

What we still don’t know is whether the money was believed to have been taken; whether there is a broader investigation that is looking into money raised in past years; whether the money will be reimbursed, and by whom; whether the athletic director was forced out merely for an accounting error (he has stated publicly, “I’m not guilty of anything. Some things happened on my watch, and I was held responsible.”); and we still don’t know whether any formal charges are coming.

We feel answers to at least some of these questions will give residents in our towns better insight into how their government and schools are being run. The dividing between the public’s right to know and public officials’ need to protect privacy rights needs a bridge, one that allows a closer meeting in the middle.

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