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Town won’t re-air embarrassing video

Abington official resigns after televised ‘magic trick’

By Constance Lindner and Emily Sweeney
Globe Correspondent | Globe Staff / October 4, 2011

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Abington school officials have decided not to rebroadcast the videotape of a recent School Committee meeting during which the chairman performed a “magic trick’’ with a bra that embarrassed another committee member.

Committee chairman Russell FitzGerald, who pulled the trick on member Ellen Killian during the Sept. 27 meeting, resigned yesterday, after apologizing to Killian, according to school officials.

The stunt was captured live and televised on the local cable access channel, which regularly airs Abington School Committee meetings. School Superintendent Peter Schafer said yesterday that the videotape of the meeting will not be rebroadcast or released to the public.

“Ellen Killian deserves to be protected from further embarrassment . . . and she and her family should not have to deal with YouTube and video hits on the Internet,’’ Schafer said in a phone interview yesterday afternoon.

“Russell FitzGerald has apologized and resigned after more than 11 years of volunteer service to the community of Abington,’’ Schafer added. “The incident was broadcast the evening of the meeting, and the event has already been described in detail to the public through news outlets.’’

The Patriot Ledger reported that FitzGerald opened the Sept. 27 meeting by performing a magic trick with the help of an unwitting volunteer, Steven Shannon, Abington’s 2011 Teacher of the Year. The newspaper reported that FitzGerald and Shannon held two knotted handkerchiefs together in front of Killian, pulled on each end, and then suddenly a bra appeared.

FitzGerald, an amateur magician who often begins meetings with a magic trick in a spirit of fun, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Killian and Shannon also could not be reached.

Abington officials had considered whether to release the video of the meeting, after news outlets asked for a copy.

Town Manager John D’Agostino retrieved the tapes, which are town property, and said that he turned them over to Schafer “for his action.’’

Schafer said that, as far as he knows, he has the only copy and the original of the meeting video, and he will not release it to the public in any way.

Representatives of Abington Community Access & Media Inc., the local cable access channel, did not respond to e-mails from the Globe seeking comment. Legal counsel for the town, represented by the law firm Kopelman and Paige, also could not be reached.

The incident has been the talk of the town, and some residents debated the question of whether the video of a public meeting should be released.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I expect someone in his position of authority to pull that on someone in public, though I understand that his intentions were not to do harm, and we all have done things, but I don’t see a need to carry this on any further by making the tapes public,’’ said Abington resident Donna Hoffman.

Ted Cummins, an Abington resident, said he believes the tapes are public property and should not be withheld.

“I think Russ FitzGerald could have chosen a more commendable magic trick, but his intentions were good and it has been overblown,’’ said Cummins.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com.