Utica School Board vs. Howard Potter of Master Images. Who’s in the Right?
Opinion by Bill Keeler
There's a battle underway between a Utica business owner and the Utica City School District. Who is in the right, and who is in the wrong, or is it somewhere in between? Let's dig in.
Howard Potter and his wife own AP Master Images screen printing in Utica. He recently received a letter from the head of curriculum at the district, Steven A. Falchi, who was writing at the direction of the district's attorney. The letter informed Mr. Potter to stop printing tee shirts bearing the schools name. The message was pretty direct.
"Please cease and desist as you do not have permission from the Utica City School District," the letter stated. It seems that Potter and his wife have been printing Proctor tee shirts that according to him, didn't use the schools logo and were being given to students at no charge.
One would have to wonder why Mr. Falchi, the head of curriculum, was chosen to send the letter, and not the Board's attorney. I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation, but for now, it simply makes this conflict even more bizarre.
Potter clearly took offense to the District's letter.
"Please provide me with a copy of your copyright and trademark registration documentation, so we can have it on file," Potter wrote. "We have been donating and printing for the school district for over ten years now and have never been presented with a letter like this. Also, are you going to send cease and desist letters to Walmart, Walgreens, Price Chopper, All Seasons Outfitters just to name a few others that have been printing Proctor gear for years."
Potter included a handful of links to online stores that haven't been challenged which offer Proctor sports clothing, and he called foul on the fact that his business is the only one being singled out. Two weeks ago at the last BOE meeting, President Lou LaPolla complained that Potter was inundating the district with emails, foils and complaints on what he claimed, was almost a daily basis. Potter protested the fact that board meetings were being held in a small chambers at the district office, not allowing enough of the public to participate. He received a letter back then about 3 weeks ago telling him the meetings couldn't be moved. Then, out of nowhere, the board reversed its decision and Potter was successful. They decided to move the meetings after all, and last week's school board meeting was inside the large Proctor Auditorium.
Is Potter a thorn in the district's side and is it possible that he's being singled out because of the way he questions and criticizes the board and its leadership? Is the board targeting Potter to punish him over his multiple challenges? It sure looks that way.
On Friday morning, WIBX covered the story and I gave my opinion that this latest move on Potter and his business seemed completely vindictive and that President Lou LaPolla was running the board like "old Utica," the way he was rumored to have run the city when he was mayor from 1984 to 1995.
Meanwhile, there was a new development today as after the radio program at 11:00 a.m., Potter received another email from the head of curriculum, Steven Falchi. Mr. Falchi offered up a completely different tone and basically said the whole thing was a misunderstanding.
"I am writing to clarify yesterday’s letter that was sent to you by the advisement of our legal counsel as you may have misinterpreted the intent of the letter. The school district is asking that you seek the district’s authorization to conduct any such business using the district’s likenesses/images. The school district would never turn down any donations for our students upon permission from the school district. In addition, this enables us to be informed of what is being donated and to whom. If you wish to donate any items, please follow this procedure. If you have any questions, please feel free to call me." -Steven Falchi.
Feel free to scroll back up and re-read the original "cease and desist" letter sent to Potter on Thursday and see what you think. It certainly seemed to be pretty straight forward with clear intent. If only the second letter was the only one that was sent, we probably wouldn't even be talking about this story.
I'll let the reader determine who's in the right and who's in the wrong here. If it is the district, it should be alarming to taxpayers because it means that some BOE members are using their position on this public board to settle personal scores. We all know, that's how politics used to operate in Utica, like back in the 80s and early 90s.
By the way, don't expect Mr. Potter to go away any time soon. His business is quite successful, and earlier this week he announced on Facebook that in May of 22', he's running for a position on: the Utica City School Board. That looks like a race that could be fun to watch.