In the latest cinematic twist in a gateway city showdown, the Everett schools superintendent who accused Mayor Carlo DeMaria of racist and sexist acts of discrimination and retaliation last month found surveillance cameras hidden in her office less than two weeks later, her lawyer said.
The cameras were found in the ceiling of Superintendent Priya Tahiliani’s office around Jan. 28, said the lawyer, Benjamin Flam.
“It’s extremely disturbing that shortly after filing suit against the city and the mayor, surveillance cameras were indeed found in Ms. Tahiliani’s office ceiling,” Flam said. “The authorities have been notified and while they’re investigating, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Tahiliani, who is Indian American and the city’s first superintendent of color, filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination on Jan. 17, alleging racial and gender discrimination. She said that DeMaria and the city’s School Committee have intentionally undermined her, retaliated against her for hiring other people of color, and interfered with her ability to manage day-to-day operations of the schools.
“The institutional racism championed by Everett’s Mayor, Carlo DeMaria, and his cronies on the ... School Committee is palpable,” Tahiliani alleged.
The superintendent did not respond to Globe requests for an interview about how she discovered the cameras, which were first reported by the Everett Leader Herald. But two School Committee members reiterated what Tahiliani told them, indicating that the cameras were functioning and that she turned them over to the FBI.
“From my understanding, they were live,” said School Committee member Samantha Lambert. “They weren’t relics.”
Lambert also said she understood “that the entire building was swept.”
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.
This isn’t the first time in recent memory that audio-visual equipment has proved problematic for Everett officials.
In October 2020, video footage of a contentious and racially charged public City Council meeting mysteriously had disappeared by the following morning. At the time, the mayor’s spokeswoman, Deanna Deveney, said footage of the public meeting had been entirely erased from the broadcasting system, of which she was in charge. The mayor referred that matter to local police and State Police, the Middlesex district attorney, and the FBI, she said on Thursday. However, she said that authorities had “conducted a thorough investigation but were unable to determine the source of the breach.”
Audio-visual equipment was also at the root of the dispute that broke out at the meeting whose video record was erased. Several City Councilors had grown frustrated with one of their members, former councilor Gerly Adrien, who had routinely been participating in meetings via Zoom. Councilors had blamed Adrien’s Zoom connection for their inability to hear her; a microphone in the City Council chamber later proved to be at fault. Several frustrated councilors suggested Adrien resign if she was unwilling to attend meetings in person during the pandemic, prompting an outpouring of public support for Adrien, who was the first Black woman elected to the council. She unsuccessfully challenged DeMaria for mayor last year.
More recently, city observers reported, the microphone failed during the public comment portion of another inflammatory council meeting in December. Members of the public were objecting to the revelation that the mayor had begun receiving a “longevity bonus” of $40,000 a year. The council recently took steps to dial back that bonus, but further discussion is expected at a Monday night meeting.
DeMaria had become the state’s highest paid mayor since he was elected in 2007, and was narrowly reelected in November, the same month that the Globe reported the FBI was investigating a claim by the city clerk that the mayor had demanded an undeserved $97,000 from him. DeMaria has denied the accusation, saying the clerk owed him the money as part of a real estate deal, and he has filed a defamation suit against the Leader Herald, which first reported the clerk’s allegations.
The superintendent’s complaint against DeMaria and the School Committee centers on claims that he is trying to oust her from the position to which she was appointed two years ago. Her offense, she said in her complaint, was simply “being a woman of color who refused to maintain a 100% White district level management staff and who stood against the School Committee’s flagrant refusal to comply with a Title IX investigation into its own members’ conduct.”
During DeMaria’s reelection campaign, she alleged, he told School Committee members and employees that they had to get her out of the job. He has also broadcast his intention to appoint white men to replace her and her deputy, an Asian woman, she charged.
Tahiliani’s contract runs through 2024.
She also charged that School Committee members are interfering with her ability to do her job, even blocking her from conducting an investigation into a Title IX complaint, which a school staff member filed against two committee members. Tahiliani wrote that other members of the board have “consistently blocked the investigation by leaving a School Committee meeting early so that there was not a quorum in order to discuss the investigation.”
On Dec. 20, DeMaria was among the five School Committee members who voted against holding an executive session to discuss complaints brought against the two committee members, meeting minutes show.
A Title IX complaint is one filed confidentially to report sexual harassment or discrimination. The school superintendent who preceded Tahiliani, Frederick F. Foresteire, is awaiting trial on charges of indecent assault after being accused of inappropriately touching three female school employees.
During Tahiliani’s tenure, DeMaria pushed for a city charter change that made him a voting member of the School Committee. Because the board now has an even number of members — a structure that was discouraged by its own attorney — a tie vote results in no action being taken.
The School Committee was expected last month to vote on numerous measures that would curb the superintendent’s authority, including a request that she no longer attend committee meetings. Most of those measures were postponed, however, after Tahiliani filed the complaint.
Deveney directed questions to school officials, saying she was not privy to any information about the cameras.
“Mayor DeMaria condemns any such actions and believes that any parties responsible should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” she said.
In a statement on Saturday, DeMaria said he was “extremely disturbed by the allegation, apparently verified, that cameras were found in the office of the Everett School Superintendent.”
“I have given instructions to city officials that an investigation be immediately undertaken to determine how this occurred and who is responsible. However, in order to ensure that such an investigation is as comprehensive as possible, I call upon the Office of the Attorney General of the Commonwealth and the Middlesex District Attorney to conduct their own investigations, in order that those responsible can be held accountable to the fullest extent provided by law,” he said.
Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.