SableGate: The Truth Will Out

If you've lost interest in dark dealings in Mt. Lebanon, then skip this post. But if sniffing further around the fraying edges of the Kingdom of Lebo is your cup of tea, then join me (and my merrily mis-matched metaphors).

When we last met: The recently-hired schools Superintendent, Margery Sable, had resigned from her position. Under a deal approved by the School Board, Mt. Lebanon buys out the rest of her long-term contract to the tune of roughly $500,000, plus some extraordinary benefits. Why did she resign? Was she really fired? Was she blackmailing members of the Board? Who knows. No one is talking. There's a confidentiality stipulation in the contract. The Board claims that "personnel matters" like this one are exempt from the rules of the state's Sunshine Act.

In today's episode: Information rushes in to fill a vacuum, and it may be false or it may be true. No sensible organization just sits there and lets the brand twist in the wind. (That's what corporate crisis managers say, anyway.) So here's what I know (which isn't much), and here's what I speculate. I'm delighted to be proved wrong, but to be proved wrong, others have to pick up the ball and run with it. (See how much fun this metaphors thing is?)

I don't know Margery Sable. Never met her. Shortly after she started, though, rumors started making the rounds: She gave pieces of cheese to teachers in the District (as in: Who Moved My Cheese?, the best-selling "management" toolkit). She wouldn't let teachers use the restroom when she was at the podium during meetings. She was going to change the District mascot from the Blue Devil to something less "offensive." Is any of this true? I have no idea. Does any of it really reflect on her competence as a manager? Hard to say. But these things were making the rounds of students and parents, long before the events of a week ago.

All of this leads to Rank Speculation #1: Something of this sort -- a trigger -- led the Board finally to conclude that it made a bonehead play in hiring her in the first place (remember, she had never been a schools Superintendent at any level). The Board not-so-quietly got rid of her to avoid ugly publicity about a bad hiring decision.

Let's move on. Back in September, the School Board granted the teachers' union a 5-year contract extension, with what a lot of residents thought (and think) was an overly generous compensation structure. There was a lot of grumbling in town, as in, "Once again, the Board is giving away my tax money without asking me whether I think it's a good idea," but mostly, the issue blew over.

So, Rank Speculation #2: Margery Sable didn't like the deal. Rumor and innuendo had it that she and the teachers didn't get along. (Asked about Sable's departure, union chief Mark McCloskey noted that the teachers didn't have any "formal complaints" outstanding against her, a comment worthy of Henry Kissinger). My theory #2 is that she was ready to go public with her unhappiness over the contract extension. Don't forget that that Sable herself didn't participate in the generous round of raises announced last June for the District's top administrators, a tidbit that retrospectively takes on a new importance. (What did the Board know then that it didn't share?) Oops -- I almost forgot to mention the millions in cost overruns that the Board approved on the ongoing capital improvement project at District schools. I suspect that the Superintendent didn't forget it: all that money going out the door, for teachers and classrooms, and none of it going into her pocket. Maybe, too, she thought she saw some soft accounting at the Board level, or some fluff in the central District administration, just for good measure. Nothing illegal, but stuff that the taxpayers wouldn't be keen about. So Margery Sable was going to point out that the Board had its financial priorities way out of whack (or, it had wacky financial priorities). In either case, the Board didn't want to look spineless to its constituents, so instead of owning up to giving away the store to the teachers, it gave away the store again, to Margery Sable. And it goes back to business as usual.

Even Mt. Lebanon, wealthy community that it is, doesn't have that many stores to give away. The one and only one true law of economics is: There's no such thing as a free lunch. Someone has to pay for all of this. We pay financially (that would be the taxpayers of the municipality, who've been told to "trust us" by the Board). We pay (or should pay) in accountability (that should be the Board). But no one can know who should pay, and how much, and for what, unless and until the truth comes out. We're waiting.


0 Responses to "SableGate: The Truth Will Out"

Search Pittsblog

About Pittsblog

Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

Comments are moderated.
Subscribe to Pittsblog comments


Blog Archive

Header Background

Header background images licensed from (left image) lemonad and (right image) plaskota under Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 2.0 Generic licenses.


Copyright 2003-2010 Michael J. Madison - WP Theme by Brian Gardner - Blogger Blog Templates,