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Iowa Watchdog

Des Moines district emails give credence to Sebring allegations

7/26/2013

Des Moines Register editors knew of possible violations of computer policies within the Des Moines School District weeks before the release of racy emails between former Superintendent Nancy Sebring and her alleged lover were made public, according to district emails obtained by Iowa Watchdog.

It’s unclear, however, how they knew of possible violations of the policy and whether they were in regards to Sebring, as she alleges in a lawsuit filed against the district earlier this month. There is also nothing in the emails to suggest any Iowa laws were violated.

WHO KNEW WHAT, WHEN? Des Moines school district and board members are still under fire more than a year after former Superintendent Nancy Sebring’s departure.

WHO KNEW WHAT, WHEN? Des Moines school district and board members are still under fire more than a year after former Superintendent Nancy Sebring’s departure.

Kathy Bolten, metro editor for the Register, filed a public information request May 16 for “all emails to and from former Superintendent Nancy Sebring between Feb. 1 and May 10, 2012 that contain the word ‘Omaha.’ ”

Those records were not made available to the newspaper until at least May 30, according to the emails.

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Bolten, however, asked district spokesman Phil Roeder in a May 23 email about Des Moines’ policy on email usage, which ultimately led to Sebring’s resignation.

Bolten did not respond to Iowa Watchdog’s requests for comment. Senior Register editor Carol Hunter declined comment.

Pat Lantz, attorney for the school district, directed all comment to the district’s outside lawyers. Sebring also declined comment, saying she had nothing else to say other than what was outlined in her lawsuit.

The emails also show the Des Moines district planned to withhold information from the Omaha World Herald until the Register ran its story. That changed, however, when a draft question and answer document with then board president Teree Caldwell-Johnson was leaked to the Nebraska newspaper the Friday before the Register planned to run its story regarding the intimate emails.

Iowa Watchdog’s Sebring dox

“I cannot apologize enough to you, Kathy, Carol, Rick and everyone at your end for however this document got to the (Omaha World Herald),” Roeder wrote in a June 1 email to Mary Stegmeir, education reporter for the Register.

His email referenced Bolten, Hunter and editor Rick Green.

“This is/was a draft statement and was being prepared in anticipation of the Register’s story on this issue,” Roeder wrote to Stegmeir the same night after 9:30 p.m.

Sebring’s lawsuit alleges that Roeder, Caldwell-Johnson and Lantz “either individually or working in concert, wrongfully undertook the steps to ensure the purely personal and private emails would come to the attention of the Des Moines Register and to the public,” according to court documents.

Because of their actions, Sebring’s reputation was destroyed and her career left in shambles, her lawsuit alleges.

The controversy erupted more than a year ago when Sebring abruptly resigned her position just weeks before she was set to take over as superintendent of the Omaha School District. At the time, Caldwell-Johnson said Sebring told her she needed more time to prepare for the move and her daughter’s wedding, which Sebring refutes in the lawsuit. Previous emails obtained by Iowa Watchdog also show this was not the case.

It came to light June 1 through media outlets that Sebring, instead, had resigned after district officials found racy emails between her and her alleged lover, both of whom were married at the time. Some were sent on district computers and during school hours, which violated the district’s computer policy.

District leaders supposedly found the emails while running a query to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act request filed May 7 by the Omaha World Herald. Sebring then convinced the Omaha reporter to narrow his request to omit personal emails. That, however, happened after the Des Moines board was made aware of them, according to her lawsuit.

Sebring submitted her resignation May 9. The Register submitted its request for all of Sebring’s emails containing the word “Omaha” wasn’t filed until May 16. The public wasn’t made aware of the real reason Sebring resigned until June 1.

“Kathy (Bolten) did ask for a copy of emails we provided to a recent Omaha World Herald request,” Roeder wrote in a May 29 email to Stegmeir. “The attached PDF are the emails provided to the OWH. I’ve also attached a copy of their original and revised requests, so you know what was asked for by the paper.”

Two days later, Roeder wrote an email to Stegmeir and Hunter that said, “I want to apologize. We have no idea how the OWH received this and from whom, and we have some serious concerns at our end.”

Iowa Watchdog’s Sebring dox

Contact Sheena Dooley at dooley@iowawatchdog.org. Sheena Dooley is the Iowa bureau chief for Watchdog.org, where this story first appeared.

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