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Lilly, Stepien to fight ouster from Lew-Port board Appeal to question legitimacy of vote on alleged misconduct

Edward M. Lilly and Scott A. Stepien say they will fight their colleagues's decision to remove them from the Lewiston-Porter School Board.

"We're going to appeal to the [state education] commissioner," Stepien, a lawyer, said Monday. He said he was researching the matter and hoped to ask the commissioner this week to delay the action so he can serve on the board until he can file a formal appeal.

"It's within the commissioner's power to grant a stay. I want that because I'd like to be there for the board reorganization meeting Thursday," Stepien said.

Lilly, a businessman, said he would do the same.

Saturday night's 4-2 vote in the Community Resource Center on the district's Creek Road Campus followed an eight-hour hearing on official misconduct charges.

Board President David S. Schaubert filed the charges because the two conservative board members had failed to take the six-hour financial oversight training course required by a 2005 state law for all board members within a year of being elected. Both Lilly and Stepien began serving three-year terms July 1, 2006 -- the fourth for Lilly and the first for Stepien.

Midnight Saturday marked the end of the first year of these terms, as well as the end of the terms of Schaubert and Louis M. Palmeri, the board's vice president. Neither sought re-election this year.

Schaubert and Palmeri joined board members James Mezhir and Robert Laub in voting to remove Lilly and Stepien from the board. Lilly and Stepien voted against their ouster.

Lilly and Stepien described the grounds for their removal as illegitimate.

"They removed us for not going to a class we didn't know about," Stepien said. "They called it official misconduct. That's ridiculous. If you read the law, you find the real examples of misconduct. It's people breaching their duties, things like money not being properly accounted, doing things [that violate the public trust], that are not permissible under state statutes ," Stepien said.

"We were never notified about the financial training class in any official way or we'd have signed up for it. As soon as we were told, we immediately registered to take the next class," which will be held July 28," Stepien said.

Schaubert testified he personally had told Lilly about the requirement, and District Clerk Debra Sherman said information sheets had been included in their board meeting packets on four occasions during the past year.

But the two men said they did not see the notices and do not recall Schaubert approaching them about the class. Nobody, they claimed, indicated they could lose their board seats if they did not take the class.

If the information was in any board packet, it was not part of the official meeting agenda, they said, noting they receive an extremely large number of papers at every meeting.

"We didn't know about the training. I think that's very clear. Because as soon as we were informed, we promptly registered for it," Stepien said. "I also think it's clear Mr. Schaubert used his position as board president to improperly influence or attempt to influence -- I don't know if he was successful -- to frustrate our entry into a program to get the training before June 30."

Lilly quoted an e-mail from Schaubert telling Clark Godshall, superintendent of the Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services, not to do Lilly any "favors" in the matter. BOCES schedules several financial oversight training sessions annually.

Schaubert said he didn't want Godshall to feel he had to go beyond anything he normally would do, but was not trying to impede anything.

Lilly said the board action was wrong for numerous reasons.

For one, he said the charges should not have been filed until they had completed their first year in office and again insisted he and Stepien were not aware of the requirement.

"It's like getting a speeding ticket before you even leave your driveway because they know you'll probably go 56 in a 55-mph zone -- or getting a ticket for no car inspection in May when it's due in June because they know you haven't scheduled an appointment with your garage for it," Lilly said.

"This is not about Lilly or Stepien," he added. "It's about four renegade dictators overruling an entire community that voted for us largely due to our drug and alcohol cleanup proposal and our insistence on accountable spending."

"These guys have been contemplating this for quite a while," Lilly said.

Lilly had pushed unsuccessfully for random drug testing of district staff, something that Schaubert said the board was not authorized to do or pay for under state law.

Lilly objected to hiring SWBR Inc., an architectural-engineering firm, for $2 million to oversee $28 million in capital improvements planned for district buildings and property over the next several years without seeking bids on the contract.

Schaubert said districts are allowed to hire professional firms on a no-bid basis.

Lilly also objected to approving $13 million in capital projects this summer because he said the board would not be able to pay for them out of Greenway funds.

That money, provided under the deal for relicensing the Niagara Power Project, cannot be used for any project that starts before Sept. 1, he said.

The projects, he said, would qualify for Greenway funding after that date, he said.

He also said he fears the district will lose Greenway funding because it will not have enough qualifying projects, such as recreation and environmental work, left.

Schaubert says Lilly's assumptions are incorrect.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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