Pittsburgh School Board Member Alleges Forgery In Amazon Proposal
Pittsburgh Public Schools board representative Kevin Carter says he did not sign a letter of support for Amazon’s HQ2 that bears his signature. And the solicitor for the school district, whose office procured that letter, says an investigation will begin immediately.
“If somebody wanted me to sign a letter they could have asked. I do not represent the school board and the letter makes it seem like I do,” said Carter, who represents District 8. Carter said he is working with a lawyer. “I want whoever signed my name to lose their job.”
A signature purporting to be Carter’s appears, alongside that of superintendent Anthony Hamlet, on an Oct. 11, 2017 letter to Amazon expressing “full support for locating [a second headquarters] in Pittsburgh.” That letter was included in the region’s bid for the headquarters. That pitch included a tax incentive that would have required the school board's approval.
In a Facebook post Tuesday night, Carter wrote he neither saw nor signed that letter. “Any letter or materials included in the Amazon proposal with my signature was fraudulently forged and affixed [to] said documents without my knowledge,” he said.
Carter included two photos below the post, one of his signature from a 2015 campaign document and one from the letter of support. “You be the judge,” he wrote.
Carter’s post last night appears to have gone beyond previous comments he made about the letter. In a Nov. 15 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, Carter said he didn’t recall signing the letter. Speaking to WESA Wednesday morning, Carter said he hadn’t seen the letter when he talked to the Post-Gazette.
In a public statement last week, board solicitor Ira Weiss wrote that “the city and county requested the district solicitor to submit a letter communicating the district's willingness to collaborate on potential development programs.”
Weiss also sent a Nov. 15 email to PPS board members which characterized the letter as being “much in the nature of the discussions the board has with any development project.”
“The letter was signed by Dr. Hamlet, and I met with Mr. Carter in my office,” Weiss wrote to board members. “I emphasize the board was not committed to anything other than discussing projects as they came forward.”
Carter said, while he spoke with Weiss generally about the Amazon bid, there was no conversation about a letter.
Reached by phone Wednesday morning, Weiss said he would not get in a public debate with Carter.
“If he claims he didn’t sign it, then we will investigate,” he said. Weiss said in a follow up statement that he will immediately launch an investigation with a professional firm.
"The district is immediately launching an independent investigation regarding the allegations of a forged signature on the Pittsburgh Public School District "Amazon" letter," the statement said. "The fact that Amazon has not chosen Pittsburgh for 'HQ2' and the fact that this letter did not legally bind the district into any tax incentive programs is entirely irrelevant."
The district has retained Corporate Security and Investigations, of Monaca, to conduct the review. In an email to board members, Weiss said the company had performed "many investigations of all types," for school districts and others.
More than two hours before the statement's release, Board President Regina Holley told WESA Wednesday morning that the issue was “moot.”
“We believe Mr. Carter [but] Amazon isn’t coming to Pittsburgh. So it’s energy being wasted,” she said.
“If Mr. Carter wants to do something, that's totally up to him. As far as I am concerned, I just want to move on."
Later in the day, the Post-Gazette quoted Holley saying "We need to make sure no board member’s signature is being forged."
Holley told WESA that she herself knew nothing about the letter until it was released with the rest of the bid last week. And at a Tuesday-night executive session, board members "made it very clear as a board ... that no letters are to go out without the approval of — not just the board president — but of the board members themselves."
Weiss stressed the letter was non-binding.
“There was no commitment of funds here,” he said. “But in retrospect the board should have discussed this and that would be protocol moving forward."
The letter to Amazon “fully commits” to helping Amazon move to Pittsburgh. Hamlet and Carter, who chairs the board committee that handles business and finance issues, are the letter’s two signatories.
“We commit to the following,” the letter reads. “Use existing economic development tools — such as Tax Increment Financing and Transit Revitalization Investment Districts — to divert future taxes associated with the HQ2 site(s) toward site delivery and public infrastructure.” In addition, the letter committed to “Utilize other anticipated tax increment generated by HQ2 to invest in Pittsburgh’s future.”
The letters of support from the city and county contain similar language. Together they supported an initiative called Forging Pittsburgh’s Future. The idea was to use tax revenue created by HQ2 to fund workforce development, create more affordable housing, and invest in infrastructure.
Carter said the PPS letter gives a false impression.
“I think it says that we are going to essentially do this,” he said. “I would not have signed the letter. I think some of the language in it is too leading.”
Moira Kaleida, who represents District 6, agreed.
“I think that that letter of support was the most shocking thing for … most of us, because this was not a matter that was voted on by the board,” she said.
However, Kaleida noted that Weiss told members the letter did not legally commit them to anything.
“We have had a complicated, contentious relationship with … tax abatements in general,” she said. “So I think it is presumptuous for anybody to assume that the school board would automatically agree to a [subsidy].”
Carter raised his allegations at the Tuesday-night executive session and Weiss did not respond, said Kaleida.
“Nobody really commented at the meeting,” she said. “It was kind of quiet after Kevin said that.”
Kaleida said she trusts both Weiss and her fellow board members.
“That makes the situation murky. It’s a very complicated situation. An allegation of forgery is something serious,” she said. “I don’t know what the hell to do right now.”