Niagara Falls schools’ consultant officially fired from previous job - The Buffalo News

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Niagara Falls schools’ consultant officially fired from previous job

NIAGARA FALLS –The top financial official hired this summer in Niagara Falls’ public schools was officially fired from his former job outside Syracuse this week because of charges of fiscal improprieties.

An arbitrator upheld charges against William E. Hamilton brought by the Jordan-Elbridge Central School District, including:

• Trying to award a district contract to a company doing work on his Skaneateles home and having improper contact with a bidder prior to the award of a contract.

• Failing to follow tax and civil service law regarding a person doing work for the district.

• Deleting records from his district computer when he learned the district was investigating him.

Hamilton – who makes up to $500 a day under his three-month agreement as an independent contractor in the Falls – was suspended from his Syracuse-area job four years ago. He was given a short-term deal in the Falls starting in July when Falls Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco said he stood out as a job candidate because of “his ethics.”

At the time Hamilton was hired, district officials said the period of the contract would allow time to review how the situation involving the charges in Central New York, still uncertain at the time, would unfold.

According to his contract in the Falls, Hamilton is to provide “professional oversight and administration of all school district financial and business functions.”

Of the 15 charges considered by the arbitrator, eight were sustained, four were dismissed, and three were thrown out because the statute of limitations had passed.

In a 155-page report issued Aug. 12, hearing officer Stephen P. LaLonde found that Jordan-Elbridge officials did not pursue “frivolous” charges, as Hamilton’s attorney had alleged. LaLonde granted the district’s pursuit of Hamilton’s dismissal.

Hamilton could not be reached to comment Friday, but his attorney said he plans to appeal the ruling.

The arbitrator found Hamilton to be guilty of not following proper bidding procedures, inadequate supervision of grant funds received from the state, seeking reimbursement from the state for expenses not eligible for reimbursement and terminating contracts without giving the other party proper notice.

The charges against Hamilton dismissed by the arbitrator included allowing an employee to have an improper level of access to the district’s computer system; failing to ensure proper reimbursement from the state; failing to have impartial, proper bidding; and giving himself a level of access to the district’s financial software despite an order to reduce the access level by the State Comptroller’s Office.

The report was the result of a required hearing when a school district in New York attempts to fire a tenured administrator, known as a 3020A hearing, which began in June 2013 and concluded in April.

In late June, the Niagara Falls School Board voted, 8-0, to give Hamilton a three-month contract, from July 1 to Sept. 30. At the time, Bianco said she was aware of, but would not comment on, the circumstances at Jordan-Elbridge.

When asked at the time what made Hamilton stand out among eight candidates for the position, Bianco said, “I like his ethics, and I like his vast knowledge of finance.” She also said she liked his business experience.

Bianco said Friday she stands by her earlier comments about Hamilton’s ethics, adding that in his time in the Falls so far, he has proved to have the knowledge base for the job, as shown in helping to reorganize some of the district’s financial operations.

“I’ve found him to be a very ethical person,” Bianco said.

As for the arbitrator’s report, Bianco said she plans to read it this weekend. “We’re looking at it, we’ll assess it, and we’ll see where it goes from here,” she said.

Hamilton was put on paid leave by Jordan-Elbridge officials in 2010 at the same time a superintendent was forced out and other administrators were either suspended, demoted or forced to leave.

The shake-up was one instance in a series of controversies in the district of roughly 1,400 students. The district was also probed by the FBI in 2011, and that same year an alleged affair between an administrator and a former interim superintendent was revealed and tied to questions about the administrator’s employment contract, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Hamilton was officially fired Wednesday from his job in the Central New York district as assistant superintendent for business and finance, the district’s superintendent told the Post-Standard this week.

The Syracuse paper has reported Hamilton received $332,423.56 in pay and benefits from the time he was suspended through the end of the 2012-13 school year, when his position was eliminated from the budget.

Falls School Board members approved the hiring of Hamilton after about 90 minutes behind closed doors with him and district administrators in late June.

School Board President Russell J. Petrozzi, who noted that Hamilton was not hired as an employee, but as a consultant, said the arbitrator’s report is being reviewed by the district’s attorneys. “Obviously it’s unfortunate, but we’re still evaluating exactly what it means,” he said.

Last October, Hamilton filed a lawsuit against his former district, seeking $7.25 million in damages and alleging retaliation. The suit claims he was the subject of a witch hunt after criticizing the treatment of an elementary school principal, according to the Post-Standard. He also has said his suspension from the district came after he questioned the hours an attorney, who had been dating a School Board member, billed the district.

Friday afternoon, Dennis O’Hara, Hamilton’s lawyer, vowed to continue his client’s legal fight.

O’Hara called the ruling “factually unfounded and legally flawed,” adding that the case has yet to make it into the courts.

“That’s where we’re going to get the truth,” O’Hara said.


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