Anthony Hamlet must go
Only in the fantasy world of Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet could a finding that he egregiously and negligently violated the state Ethics Act be characterized as a “great day” in which he was found to “have done nothing wrong” and is a “vindication” that gives him “a fresh start.”
Yet that’s what Hamlet has done in the face of a Pennsylvania Ethics Commission ruling that concluded (among other violations) thusly:
He sought, and received, travel expense reimbursements that had already been paid. That is, as City and School District Controller Michael Lamb (who filed the initial ethics complaint) put it, he “stole” money. And it wasn’t just once.
He misused leave days and carried them over year-to-year despite not being not allowed to per his contract.
He impermissibly accepted money for speeches related to his position.
And he failed to make disclosures of financial interests between 2016 and 2018.
In a fifth matter – taking a junket to Cuba, a trip not authorized by the school board – Hamlet denied any ethics violations but conceded that there was circumstantial evidence of just that.
Worse, Hamlet’s attorney attempted to spin the findings as some kind of collective failure – a combination of clerical errors and “gaps in processes and procedures,” seemingly spreading around the blame to even the school board itself.
Oh, and there simply wasn’t sufficient ethics training, goes another counterclaim.
Well, if the superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools required ethics training to understand that, among other things, repeatedly double-dipping on your expenses is a no-no, Anthony Hamlet is a far greater problem than anyone could have previously imagined.
All the spinning, excuse-making and dodging and weaving royally, and rightly, disturbed the sensibilities of the executive director of the state Ethics Commission. You might even say he’s honked off.
“It’s easy to pass the buck, it’s easy to assign culpability to other actors,” Robert Caruso told the Post-Gazette. “But in the end, Dr. Hamlet’s the superintendent of the school district, and it all falls back to him.”
And Caruso reminds that Hamlet’s ethics-violating behavior “was an ongoing course of conduct over a number of years.”
“(It) was an egregious violation of the public trust,” Caruso said, adding to KDKA Radio’s Marty Griffin on Friday that repeated violations more than suggest intent.
And one that, as the Ethics Commission clearly stated, resulted “in a private pecuniary benefit.”
Indeed, Hamlet must pay something approaching $8,000 to various entities and forfeit vacation (valued at thousands of dollars more) to right his egregious and negligent conduct. But, clearly, such conduct is unbecoming anyone in such a position, public or private.
Hamlet, of course, is no stranger to controversy, beginning with a padded resume in which he also claimed as his own an “educational philosophy” cribbed from a newspaper article. And yet the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Education still hired him at a first-year salary of $210,000 in 2016.
It’s the same school board (though now with some different members) being urged by Controller Lamb and others to cut Hamlet loose. His contract, renewed last year, runs through the 2024-25 school year.
By the way, Hamlet knew of the Ethics Commission’s findings at that time, findings yet to be released publicly pending his formal response. While the superintendent claims he could not disclose those findings, Controller Lamb told KDKA Radio that is false.
Hamlet’s contract pays him $263,350 this year. His salary is scheduled to rise to $241,083 next year; to $248,316 in 2023; to $255,765 in 2024 and to $265,996 in 2025.
Should he be fired, it remains unclear if taxpayers would be on the hook for the balance of the contract or if the ethics violations would negate that agreement.
But board President Sylvia Wilson already has gone public that, as the P-G put it, a change in leadership would make no sense because of the challenges facing the district due to the pandemic.
“We need some normalcy,” she said. “We don’t need more chaos.”
But Hamlet, in word and in deed and in failed operations and academic performance, has only ensured that chaos is the new normal in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Simply put, Anthony Hamlet, who never should have been hired in the first place, must go. Sound public policy demands it.
Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (firstname.lastname@example.org).