Black political organization backs city superintendent of schools as council examines ethics violations
As the Pittsburgh Public School Board assesses a report detailing how the district chief violated state ethical requirements, a group of black political leaders said on Tuesday they supported Superintendent Anthony Hamlet and was the target of racist attacks.
Outside the District Administration Building in Oakland, former school board member Rick Adams and five others associated with the Western PA Black Political Assembly criticized efforts to remove Hamlet. Hamlet, who is black, was hired in 2016 and his contract was renewed for four years last August. Those who gathered on Tuesday say that since Hamlet came to Pittsburgh those with political and racist motives have tried to fire him.
Some parents had been calling for a vote of no confidence for several weeks before the publication of the ethics report. They said the way the Hamlet administration handled the return to in-person learning this year was unacceptable. Hundreds of students have had to change the way they get to school as the district still faces a shortage of bus drivers.
Last week, a group of about 40 people protested against Hamlet outside the administration building for violations of the ethics law. They also called on the school board to act – a demand Adams denounced on Tuesday.
“Calling for a vote of no confidence or impeachment fuels a large-scale political attack on privileged elements, establishment and community groups who have hidden agendas,” Adams said.
Hamlet has been cited for violations that stemmed from collecting improper travel reimbursements and for errors on financial disclosure forms, dating back to 2019. He has to reimburse nearly $ 8,000 and forfeit 14 days of vacation valued at $ 12,300. Hamlet said the findings justified it, as the report said his failures were negligent rather than intentional.
But another black-led political group on Tuesday reiterated its calls for Hamlet’s replacement. Black Women For A Better Education, who formed last year to speak out against what they called the district’s slow and inadequate response to the pandemic, said on Tuesday they still wanted a new chief for the district.
The group noted that calls not to renew Hamlet’s contract date back to 2018, for reasons such as managing the district’s finances.
“Nothing that has happened since then, including the release of the state’s ethics commission findings, has changed our position,” BW4BE said in an email Tuesday. “In fact, it strengthened our determination that the actions we took over a year ago were correct.”
The pro-Hamlet WPBPA said on Tuesday it plans to create a “community vehicle” to tackle future transgressions against appointed and elected officials. The group also plans to file a complaint requesting an Ethics Commission investigation into City Comptroller Michael Lamb. Lamb filed a complaint in 2019 against Hamlet: Adams and others said Tuesday that Lamb himself violated privacy rules by publicly discussing the complaint.
In a statement, Lamb said: “As a resident, I have the right to make a complaint, but as the Comptroller of the City of Pittsburgh, I have a responsibility to act… when I see cases of fraud and abuse. The Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission has determined that Dr. Hamlet violated public trust, which unfortunately matches my original complaint. ”
Lamb told WESA he received a letter reporting that Hamlet received the initial findings of the investigation before the school board renewed his contract last August. According to Hamlet and his lawyer, they believed they could not discuss the case until the investigation was completed.
The men’s group gathered on Tuesday listed five demands. They want the board to postpone a “no-confidence” vote until “there is full disclosure of the facts allowing for a full public verification of what happened,” according to a statement released by the group. They also want the board of directors to contract with another lawyer. Ira Weiss held the post for decades, but according to Hamlet supporters on Tuesday, “he stepped down” because he signed Hamlet’s contract, which supporters said contained a clause that resulted in some of the expenses. contested described in the Ethics Report.
Adams said the group would also call for an ethics investigation into District Attorney Stephen Zappala, who told the Post-Gazette on Friday that he planned a “full review” of Hamlet’s violations.
“It seems more political than procedural to us,” the group said in its statement.
They are also asking for the dismissal of KDKA reporter Andy Sheehan, who has reported several stories in recent years detailing the controversies surrounding Hamlet.