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Black Political Organization Supports City Schools Superintendent As Board Reviews Ethics Violations

Hamlet supporters
Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Rick Adams, front, speaks in support of Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet Tuesday, Sept. 7 outside of the district administrative building.

As the Pittsburgh Public Schools board evaluates a report detailing how the district’s leader violated state ethics requirements, a group of Black political leaders said Tuesday that they supported Superintendent Anthony Hamlet and that he was the target of racist attacks.

Outside of the district's administrative 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 another four years last August. Those gathered Tuesday say that since Hamlet came to Pittsburgh, those with political and racist motivations have tried to remove him.

Some parents had been calling for a no-confidence vote for several weeks before the ethics report was released. They said that the way Hamlet’s administration has handled a return to in-person learning this year was unacceptable. Hundreds of students had to shift the way they get to school, as the district is still dealing with a bus driver shortage.

Last week, a group of about 40 people protested Hamlet outside of the administrative building for the Ethics Law violations. They also asked for the school board to act — a request Adams denounced Tuesday.

“To ask for a vote of no confidence or removal is feeding into a broad-based political attack by privileged elements, establishment, and community groups who have hidden agendas,” Adams said.

Hamlet was cited for violations that stem from him collecting improper travel reimbursements, and for errors on financial disclosure forms, dating back to 2019. He must pay back nearly $8,000 and forfeit 14 vacation days valued at $12,300. Hamlet said the findings vindicated him, as the reported said his lapses were negligent rather than intentional.

But another Black-led political group repeated its calls for Hamlet's replacement Tuesday. Black Women For A Better Education, which formed last year calling out what they called the district’s slow and inadequate response to the pandemic, said Tuesday that they still want a new leader for the district.

The group noted that calls to not renew Hamlet’s contract dated back to 2018, for reasons including management of district finances.

“Nothing that has happened since then, including the release of the State Ethics Commission’s findings, has changed our stance,” BW4BE said in an email Tuesday. "In fact, it has strengthened our resolve that the actions we took over a year ago were correct."

The pro-Hamlet WPBPA said Tuesday that they plan to create a “community vehicle” to address future transgressions against appointed and elected officials. The group also plans to file a complaint seeking an investigation by the Ethics Commission into City Controller Michael Lamb. Lamb filed a complaint in 2019 against Hamlet: Adams and others said Tuesday that Lamb himself violated confidentiality rules by discussing the complaint publicly.

In a statement, Lamb said "As a resident, I have a right to file a complaint but as Pittsburgh's City Controller, I have a responsibility to act ... when I see instances of fraud and abuse. The Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission determined that Dr. Hamlet violated the public's trust, which, unfortunately, aligned with my initial complaint."

Lamb told WESA that he had received a letter signaling that Hamlet had received the initial findings of the investigation before the school board renewed his contract last August. According to Hamlet and his attorney, they thought they could not discuss the matter until the investigation was complete.

The group of men gathered Tuesday listed five demands. They want the board to postpone a vote of “no confidence” until “there is a complete airing of the facts allowing for a full public vetting of what has transpired,” according to a statement released by the group. They also want the board to contract with a different solicitor. Ira Weiss has held the position for decades but according to Hamlet's supporters Tuesday, “he is derelict in his duties,” as he signed off on Hamlet’s contract, which the supporters say contained a clause that resulted in some of the questioned expenses outlined in the Ethics report.

Adams said the group will also ask for an ethics investigation into District Attorney Stephen Zappala, who told the Post-Gazette on Friday that he is planning a “thorough review” of Hamlet’s violations.

“Sounds more political than procedural to us,” the group said in its statement.

They also are calling for the termination of KDKA reporter Andy Sheehan, who has reported several stories over the past few years detailing controversies surrounding Hamlet.

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.