Martin Schmotzer at center of Baldwin-Whitehall school controversy

Quit Baldwin-Whitehall board for paid job, then reversed stand

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Martin Schmotzer is no stranger to Democratic politics. He's served as a committee member, school board member in Baldwin-Whitehall and even eight months as a state representative when Chelsa Wagner resigned to become Allegheny County's controller.

But now Mr. Schmotzer, 57, of Whitehall is at the center of a firestorm over some controversial actions taken by himself and fellow Baldwin-Whitehall school board members recently.

At a special school board meeting Nov. 19, the board accepted Mr. Schmotzer's resignation and promptly appointed him to a newly created, $120,000-per-year position of supervisor of projects for the school board and special assistant to the superintendent. They did so with no public discussion or input, outraging residents who say the district can't afford such a position, especially one that was never advertised or placed on an agenda.

Amid the public furor that has ensued since then and a lawsuit filed by a resident to overturn that decision, Mr. Schmotzer withdrew from the job last week, due, he said, to "political and personal attacks" on himself and his family.

But that wasn't the end of the controversy.

At a board meeting Wednesday, Mr. Schmotzer showed up and was sworn in to a new, four-year term in office, over the objections of hundreds of angry residents who screamed and chanted "Ho! Ho! Ho! Marty must go!" Some residents were escorted from the meeting by Whitehall police.

For most of the past 10 years, Mr. Schmotzer has served as a school board member, including several years as president of the board. During his tenure, the board raised property taxes twice and slashed them in more recent years.

Mr. Schmotzer came to the board as a major player in local Democratic politics, having served on both the state Democratic Committee in the 37th Senatorial District and the Allegheny County Democratic Committee for 24 years.

During that time, he also served as chairman of the Whitehall Borough Democratic Committee for three years and as a judge of elections for six years.

Mr. Schmotzer had bigger political aspirations that were sidelined for a time when he faced criminal charges.

Before he began serving with the school board, Mr. Schmotzer worked as the deputy clerk of courts for Allegheny County for 15 months, before he was fired in April 1997 for stealing $50,000 from county coffers.

Investigators said Mr. Schmotzer told them he enlisted the help of a former cleaning woman at his home to help him divert the funds into an account that he used to pay gambling debts, day care bills, and even a political contribution to his onetime boss.

Mr. Schmotzer pleaded guilty to theft and returned the money after his brother, John Schmotzer, loaned him $50,000, and the charges eventually were dropped due to a legal technicality.

By 2006, with his criminal record expunged, Mr. Schmotzer and his family were back in the political fray. He was board president at Baldwin-Whitehall, and in 2008 his wife, Amy Schmotzer, ran unsuccessfully for state Senate against then-Sen. John Pippy, R-Moon.

In 2012, Mr. Schmotzer won a special election in April to fill Chelsa Wagner's former state House seat in the 22nd District through the end of the year, but he lost the primary election for the Democratic nod for a full two-year term.

At the end of 2012, Mr. Schmotzer was again left without a public position. But it didn't last long.

His brother, John, resigned his seat on the Baldwin-Whitehall board in December 2012, and Mr. Schmotzer was appointed by the board to replace him until this year's election could be held for a permanent replacement.

Mr. Schmotzer sought and was elected to a full four-year term this year, which was set to begin last week.

In a complicated legal maneuver, Mr. Schmotzer had to resign from his previous board seat to accept the new position. But solicitor Bruce Dice ruled he hadn't resigned the new term for which he had been elected, so he still could be sworn into that position once he gave up the paid post.

The board is split into a six-member majority that includes Mr. Schmotzer and an opposing group of new members including Karen Brown and David Solenday and incumbent board member Tracy Macek -- the only member who voted against Mr. Schmotzer's appointment.

"I honestly don't know" how he has support, said resident Lou Rainaldi.

Mr. Rainaldi presented board members with a petition signed by nearly 1,300 residents who called for more transparency among board members and for Mr. Schmotzer to vacate his seat.

The school board's regular monthly meeting is scheduled for tonight and residents are promising another large crowd..

"We're trying to find a way to impeach or recall them," Mr. Rainaldi said of the board.

Janice Crompton: or 412-263-1159.

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