Stephanie Acri apparently has a very short memory.

It was just four years ago, that previous Moline mayor Scott Raes was set to pretty much cruise to re-election. He’d done a pretty good job as mayor, voters seemed to like him, and there didn’t seem to be much reason to switch leadership for the city.

Bob “Mr. Thanksgiving” Vogelbaugh being interviewed by WVIK.

Then Raes made the monumentally huge mistake of contesting the candidacy of one of the most popular men in the Quad-Cities, “Mr. Thanksgiving,” Bob Vogelbaugh (as well as Acri’s candidacy) over a ridiculous technicality that they didn’t number the pages in their applications. Once it got into the media, and people found out the whole story, they were furious that Raes was giving such a hard time to a guy, Vogelbaugh, who’d dedicated a large portion of his life to helping people in need get a hot meal on Thanksgiving. Vogelbaugh dropped out, but people were still so pissed at Raes, that Acri ended up winning on a write-in vote.

A write-in vote! You know people really have to be ticked at you for you to lose on a write-in.

And they were. And the irony of the whole situation was that if Raes had just stayed on a positive path, in touting his accomplishments and successes as mayor, and not given any attention to his opponents, Vogelbaugh and Acri, he very likely would’ve won.

The same could be said for Stephanie Acri.

The current mayor has had a pretty good run of it. She’s had some good, she’s had some not as good, but overall, public sentiment in Moline seemed to be leaning towards re-electing her over challenger Sangeetha Rayapati.

Then Acri, to coin a phrase, “pulled a Raes.”

A dark money organization began pushing out a flyer to Moline residents slandering Rayapati over a decision she was part of as president of the school board. That decision was regarding a Moline teacher who mistakenly posted a video of themselves having sex on Snapchat.

According to reports, the teacher most definitely did not mean to post the video, and it was on Snapchat unintentionally for 15 minutes until multiple of the teachers’ friends who saw it contacted them and they, frantically, immediately took it down.

Stephanie Acri

Was Rayapati one of the people having sex in the video? No. Was Rayapati the teacher? No. Did Rayapati post the video? No.

From the sounds of it, the sex video was not specifically made for nor recorded on Snapchat. The teacher had a private video on their phone. Is that a crime? No.

The teacher somehow, probably through ignorance of technology or something of that ilk, ended up very mistakenly posting that video to their Snapchat. Is that a crime? No. It’s just dumb, and shows an ignorance of the forum.

Some of the teacher’s students saw the video, took screenshots of it, and according to reports, even discussed whether to notify the teacher it had been posted to warn them it was there. Is that a crime? No, again, stupid mistake on the teacher’s part, and maybe not the best judgement to add current students to your Snapchat, but given today’s remote learning environment, somewhat understandable.

As reported, a friend of the teacher on their Snapchat saw the video, and frantically called them to tell them, at which point, after it had been up 15 minutes according to reports (there’s an Andy Warhol joke in there if you care to find it), the teacher quickly removed it. Is this a crime? No, and in fact, it corroborates that the teacher posted the video unintentionally.

The police, recognizing that this was more of a stupid mistake of someone naive to the technology and not an intentional act to groom underaged students or distribute pornography to them, wisely decided not to press charges.

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The school board, of which Rayapati is president, also recognized the same thing, realized it was a dumb mistake, and put the teacher on leave. Personally, I’d recommend reassigning the teacher to another school where the students haven’t seen them boning on the ‘chat, but, maybe that’s down the line. Was this a good decision to put them on leave but otherwise not push it further? Yeah, I think it was.

And this story was reported and all out there in the open, as much as it could be, legally. The police are public employees. The school board are public officials. All of them are paid for by the taxpayers. And therefore their meetings and documents are public record, subject to freedom of information requests and open to the public.

Now, one of the things Rayapati is being attacked on by Acri and the dark money flyer, is that she “covered it up” by “not commenting on it.”

Morons, please.

Sangeetha Rayapati

Now, either Acri and the dark money folks are completely ignorant of the law in regard to human resources (which is very disturbing considering Acri is the mayor of a large city), or they are engaging in disingenuous and ridiculous pearl clutching to rile up people too stupid or ignorant to know the law in regard to employees’ rights.

Because, as anyone, like me, who has run a business, and who has been called for a reference knows, YOU CANNOT LEGALLY COMMENT ON EMPLOYEES’ TERMINATIONS OR PERSONNEL ISSUES. You can’t. You can confirm they worked there, you can confirm their start and ending dates, and you can answer whether or not they are eligible to be re-hired. That’s it. You can’t go into details. You can’t comment on whether they were disciplined for mistakenly posting a sex video on Snapchat.

If you do, you could be sued. And so in NOT commenting on the issue, Rayapati is not only doing the right thing, she’s also saving the school board and the city money by saving them from a potentially major lawsuit which would be paid for by the taxpayers.

Rayapati is doing the wise and smart thing.

And yet, she’s being criticized for it.

The flyer sent out made it sound as if Rayapati was the Lil Nas X of the Quad-Cities, intentionally corrupting the minds of innocent students by setting up an amateur teacher porn ring on Snapchat and just letting it go wild as she stood back and cackled, presumably as she wished for a handlebar mustache she could twirl.

Now, dark money organizations are notorious for doing this around the country, because we live in a country where most politicians are whores for the rich and they’ve set the system up to allow for unlimited money to have influence over people stupid enough to base their decisions on asinine flyers that show up in their snail mail box. I’ve seen a ton of them in the months leading up to elections, full of lies, capital letters, and bad photoshop, and I give them all the consideration they deserve in the few seconds before they get thrown in my recycling bin. Most reasonable people follow the same path. But unfortunately, apparently, there are still gullible people out there who believe this crap.

But Acri should know better. Acri should remember how she got into office in the first place — through a stupid mistake by her predecessor, who was headed to re-election, the same way Acri probably was prior to this.

Acri, asked about the flyers, should’ve said the following: “The issue with the teacher has been dealt with by the police department and the school board, and since it’s a personnel matter, I can’t officially comment on it in detail. As for the flyers, I had nothing to do with them being sent out, they were sent out by a private group.”

That’s it. If a reporter asks a follow-up question, you refer the reporter to contact the people who sent out the flyers.

There ya go. Advice from a public relations professional. Something that probably would’ve been helpful in this case.

Instead, Acri made the mistake of doubling down on the misleading and incorrect messages of the flyers and making an even bigger deal out of it. She told WHBF-TV4, among other comments, “My opponent has falsely accused my campaign of sending mail to residents that is critical of her record and her lack of leadership.”

That’s all you need to say to get people curious. To get them looking into this. To give your opponent more attention that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten if you’d downplayed it.

And the thing is, once people actually learn all the details, they see that Rayapati’s record and leadership are actually shown in a POSITIVE light in regard to this incident. Rayapati showed GOOD judgement, echoing the good judgment of the Moline Police Department and States Attorney who, it should be very highly noted, DID NOT PRESS CHARGES AGAINST THE TEACHER. If law enforcement found nothing wrong, then why would Rayapati and the school board? If charges were filed, if the teacher was convicted, that’s a different story. But no charges have even been filed. From all indications, this was a major screw up by the teacher, but not one which was intentional and therefore a fire-able offense.

So in actuality, Rayapati’s record should not be criticized in regard to this, and in fact, she showed good leadership. She investigated the incident, involved the police and States Attorney, there was a thorough investigation done, and she did it without exposing the school board and the city to expensive litigation by violating the human resources personnel contract or the teachers union contract of the teacher. Her actions to ostensibly “cover it up” were precisely the RIGHT thing to do in this instance.

Will people recognize this, and will it turn the tide for Rayapati in the mayoral race? We’ll see.

Will Acri continue to push this issue, thus giving Rayapati even more attention that she wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and allowing more people, like me, to actually look into this and see that Rayapati did the right thing? We’ll see.

But regardless of what happens, this was a political mistake for Acri. She should’ve learned from the mistake of Raes. If you’re in the lead, you don’t look back. You keep going, you keep pressing forward with your own positive record and agenda.

Oh, and one more thing — you make sure your Snapchat doesn’t have access to your phone’s photo and video files.

 

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Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.