Pittsburgh School Board member Mark Brentley has dissolved the ad hoc committee assembled to investigate the possible purchase of the bankrupt August Wilson Center for African American Culture. It will not become the next owner.
He said he has no choice after board solicitor Ira Weiss ruined any chance of a deal and publicly humiliated him.
“We have a solicitor who made a decision without board approval that stops us from moving forward,” said Brentley. “He sent a letter to (AWC conservator) Judge (Judith) Fitzgerald that damaged the honest negotiating atmosphere I tried to establish.”
In a Feb. 20 memo, Brentley had asked Weiss to sign a confidentiality agreement with the Wilson Center and send it to him with the financial information needed to present a bid package to the board for approval.
“It’s his job to execute these things. He should have signed the agreement himself to get us the numbers we need to move forward,” said Brentley.
Weiss instead sent him a blank copy of the agreement that he had gotten from Fitzgerald with a note that said in part “should you choose to execute this agreement, you are doing so as an individual and not on behalf of the School District of Pittsburgh.” He also sent copies to Fitzgerald and her attorney.
That, said Brentley, made it impossible for him to negotiate further, and publicly embarrassed him.
Fitzgerald told Brentley by phone during the Committee’s single meeting that she had confidentiality agreements with several interested parties, and could only provide detailed financial records—about the true nature of the facility’s roughly $10 million debt—to those who had signed one.
Weiss said he merely wanted to let Fitzgerald know that if Brentley presented a confidentiality agreement, the board hadn’t approved it. He said there was nothing personal about it.
“I can’t sign that kind of agreement. The board has to approve it, then it would be signed by the president and the secretary,” he said. “Mr. Brentley could have asked the board for such approval at the Feb. 26 meeting, but he didn’t. Instead he brings it up at the end of the meeting saying I’d damaged him.”
Brentley said there is a lot of politics involved in the Wilson Center’s ultimate fate. He noted that Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto publically bids to host the Democratic National Convention, while the city remains under Act 47 and cannot possibly pay for it, no one complains.
“I try to find a way to buy the Wilson Center and I’m raked over the coals,” he said. “I’ll be curious to see who the eventual buyer is.”
Weiss said Brentley can get carried away by his passion.
“He’s a very committed person and often views legal requirement as being in the way,” said Weiss.
“He’s well intended but school boards live by rules and regulations, and it’s my job to keep them on the right side of them.”
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