Baldwin-Whitehall residents search for answers in Schmotzer controversy


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Keeping up the drum beat in their search for answers, more than 100 Baldwin-Whitehall School District residents continued to hammer school board members at a meeting Wednesday night over how they came to appoint one of their colleagues to a high-paying administrative job in the district.

Although board member Martin Schmotzer, 57, of Whitehall, resigned his short-lived position last month, the public still wants answers about how he came to be appointed for the job of supervisor of projects for the school board and special assistant to the superintendent -- which has since been eliminated -- and why such a position appears to have been created at a November board meeting without public input or discussion. One resident filed a lawsuit to stop the appointment from going forward, but has since suspended the legal action.

Residents requested and were recently given a copy of Mr. Schmotzer's contract, which is signed and dated Nov. 19 -- the same day that he stepped down as a board member and accepted the five-year contract that paid him $120,000 per year.

Residents say nothing about the job was discussed publicly before Nov. 19, and they are further puzzled by how two board members who were appointed on Nov. 19 were able to vote just minutes later for Mr. Schmotzer's appointment despite abstaining from other votes due to a lack of knowledge about district affairs. Only board member Tracy Macek dissented.

Resident Lou Rainaldi is circulating an online petition, asking for an explanation of Mr. Schmotzer's appointment and requesting that Mr. Schmotzer and solicitor Bruce Dice resign. Although Mr. Schmotzer stepped down from the board to accept the administrative job, Mr. Dice ruled he could be sworn into a new four-year term on Dec. 4. Hundreds of residents were infuriated by the move and some had to be escorted by police from the swearing-in ceremony.

Mr. Rainaldi reiterated his request for resignations from Mr. Dice and Mr. Schmotzer Wednesday night.

"The events of that night showed such a lack of integrity," that Mr. Dice's legal advice allowing the board to appoint Mr. Schmotzer to an administrative position should be tossed, Mr. Rainaldi said. "Baldwin-Whitehall needs to move on. Please explain your votes that night."

"We will keep asking these questions until they are answered," resident Brian Rampolla said. "Mr. Schmotzer wanted to be king."

Resident Tom Barchfeld called on Mr. Schmotzer and his five supporters on the board to resign as well for what he called "malfeasance," and the board's "illegal actions on Nov. 19."

Throughout the controversy, Mr. Schmotzer has offered no details about how he came to be nominated for the position, although he and his daughter, high school student Victoria Schmotzer, have publicly scolded residents for their behavior at school board meetings.

At Wednesday's meeting, he said he has no plans to resign.

"I've got big shoulders. It's fine," Mr. Schmotzer said about criticism leveled at him. "I want to work with people who have ideas to move this district forward."

Board President Larry Pantuso said he also won't resign and doesn't regret his vote.

"At some point in time, I'll explain why I voted the way I did on the 19th," he said. "I stand behind my vote."

Residents also asked the board to consider unlocking doors to the administration building after they were forced to stand outside Wednesday night in the freezing temperatures, waiting for the board to allow them in. Members said they would consider it and once again were forced to move the meeting from the administration building on Curry Road to neighboring Whitehall Elementary School after more than 87 people -- the room's fire code limit -- came to the meeting.

The board moved the Dec. 4 meeting from the administration building for the same reason and later held meetings at the Baldwin High School auditorium. Mr. Rainaldi said he warned members last week that dozens of people would be attending Wednesday's meeting and that it would need to be moved.

Superintendent Randal Lutz said in the future overflow crowds would be placed in the Whitehall cafeteria with a live television feed to the board room, where members can use their laptops and other technology. It is unclear whether that plan will go forward, however, after some board members objected.

Residents said they will be respectful but have no intention of letting up on the pressure and plan to continue haranguing board members until they get answers.

They have created a new citizens group called Baldwin-Whitehall Citizens for School Board Excellence, which plans to meet Sunday in the Whitehall Community Room to discuss future strategies. Members said they would like to find a way to remove Mr. Schmotzer and his supporters from office, or at least have them publicly censured in some way. Members have drafted a letter, asking Whitehall council members to censure him.

Resident Jerry Pantone likened himself to a frog that leaps out when placed in a pot of boiling water, but which allows itself to slowly cook to death if the temperature is raised a little at a time.

"I was that guy sitting in the pot burning to death," he said. "I saw things that I should have stood up for then and I take some responsibility for that. I'm not going to sit in the water anymore. Enough."


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