People power: Baldwin-Whitehall residents deserve better

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At a time when cynicism breeds public apathy and disillusionment allowing elected officials to get away with all sorts of bad behavior, let us celebrate the residents of the Baldwin-Whitehall School District who came out Wednesday night and struck a grass-roots blow for good government.

The people arrived 400 strong, so many of them that the school board meeting had to be moved from the district’s Administrative Building to a nearby school gymnasium. The crowd was indignant for good reason — they knew that the public interest had been assaulted.

On Nov. 19, the school board accepted the resignation of fellow board member Martin Schmotzer of Whitehall. Then, without public deliberations, they set him up in a nice little sinecure at taxpayer expense — a new $120,000-a-year, five-year position of “supervisor for projects for the board of school directors and special assistant to the superintendent.”

Inquiring minds wanted to know how this position suddenly materialized without board discussion. What it appeared to be was a case of nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you have pals. And Mr. Schmotzer, a political insider, has pals.

He is a former 10-year member of the school board who was appointed to the board in 2012 and was re-elected last month to a full term.

Mr. Schmotzer also served briefly as a Democratic state representative in 2012. In 2000, he was arrested for stealing $50,000 as an Allegheny County deputy clerk of courts and pleaded guilty in federal court, a charge that was later dismissed on a technicality.

No wonder people were mad. The result was a citizen’s lawsuit and a public outcry that packed the hall Wednesday night. It would be nice to say theirs was a total victory. Mr. Schmotzer did resign his ridiculous job — due to “political and personal attacks” on him and his family, he said — but he managed to get reinstated to the board by his fellow board members.

The good people of Baldwin-Whitehall deserved better. But that is what ballot boxes are for, even if it means a wait. The vigilant residents of the school district have demonstrated that good government also has pals.


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