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Hamburg school turmoil: Controversy over new attorney

Today, The News takes a look at the controversy in the Hamburg schools. One of the points of contention has been the district's decision to change attorneys.

Shortly after taking a seat on the Hamburg School Board, Sally Stephenson successfully pushed for the removal of the Harris Beach law firm as the district’s attorneys, replacing Harris Beach with James D. Tresmond, 73.

Before a special July meeting, Stephenson had already formed a majority to dismiss Harris Beach and hire Tresmond at $110,000 a year.

Critics of the move say the change was pushed through with only a few minutes of discussion. They note that Tresmond, former principal of a school at the state’s Masten Park juvenile detention center, has no previous experience representing school districts in any court.

According to Daniel Chiacchia, the only reason Tresmond got the Hamburg job is that “he’s good friends with Sally.”

“We found that his wife Marcia was the reference that Lindsey Stephenson used to get her teaching job at Hamburg,” Chiacchia said.

He said Stephenson had a conflict of interest and should have disclosed that information to other board members when she proposed Tresmond as the district’s lawyer.

Marcia Tresmond said she did give Lindsey Stephen a positive recommendation, but only because both she and Lindsey had worked for Erie Community College, and she knew Lindsey was a good worker. She and Tresmond said they know Sally Stephenson but are not close friends with her.

Tresmond said he devotes “15 to 20” hours a week to representing the district. He said the job has been difficult for him because the district’s former attorneys refuse to turn over records of past and ongoing district litigation.

“I need the records that were generated so I can represent the district,” he said.

The records have not been turned over, but Harris Beach attorneys Richard T. Sullivan and Marnie E. Smith said their firm is not to blame.

“We have been cooperative with Mr. Tresmond,” Sullivan said.

Harris Beach has never received any direction from the School Board to turn records over to Tresmond, and “they’re the board’s records,” Sullivan said.

He and Smith added that, in their view, Tresmond has failed to follow proper legal procedures for obtaining the records.

Meanwhile, there has been a shift in the board’s sentiments on Tresmond. On Nov. 12, members voted 5-2 to seek proposals for someone to replace him.

- Dan Herbeck and Barbara O’Brien

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |