ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) - Carl Paladino testified this week that the public has a right to know what goes on behind closed doors, especially when it has to do with how the school district spends its money.
But is that disclosure legal? With an unprecedented hearing at the State Education Building now over, that’s a question n the hands of the Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, and likely won’t be answered until sometime in August.
“Judge (Commissioner) Elia’s allowance of us to take great latitude in outlining the dysfunctionality of this board, and in my terms the rigging of that (teacher’s) contract, was invaluable, and it’s an invaluable gift to the people of the city of Buffalo,” Paladino said Wednesday after closing arguments.
“It’s my belief that the public has a right to know that their negotiator is weak, is panicking, is irresponsible,” he said. “You can’t achieve anything with the board of power-hungry people who want to maintain the status quo. They’re not thinking of the kids.”
Paladino has said he was thinking about the kids and his voters when he wrote about what the school board majority claimed was discussed only in executive session.
The petition for Paladino’s ouster focuses on disclosures he wrote in tell-all articles in ArtVoice on Jan. 5 and 14, covering everything from contract negotiations with teachers to a lawsuit with LP Ciminelli to even a discipline case against a high school principal.
Paladino’s attorney Dennis Vacco said the board is only using the disclosures as an excuse to have his client removed over the racist words his client wrote about Barack and Michelle Obama. That would be a breach of Paladino’s First Amendment rights, he said.
“If we can’t get him for that, will get him for this,” Vacco said, quoting what one board member said during an executive session in January. “That is the overriding theme of our case, and that is the underlying motivation for their petition.”
School board attorney Frank Miller said, since he’s been involved, it’s always been about confidential disclosures, which he said prevent the board from their legal right to discuss sensitive topics in private.
“He was using that confidential information to further a personal interest, which is clearly prohibited in the policies of the Board of Education,” Miller said.
“He’s not a whistle blower, he’s not a person who’s furthering the public interest,” Miller added. “The First Amendment is to protect speech, but not to shield you from other wrongful conduct. And that’s exactly what he’s been trying to offer in this case.
Board of Education president Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold called that tool critical to conducting the business of Buffalo city schools.
“Without the ability to know that when we go into executive session and discussed, and each member has the ability to express their views, to be honest, to be transparent about what they’re thinking, and have confidence that that information will not be disclosed without the permission of all the board members, is crucial,” she said.
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This week’s hearing at times grew heated with obvious animosity on both sides. After closing arguments wrapped up Wedneday morning, Paladino approached Miller, as Miller was talking with the media, and stood in his peripheral a few feet away.
When it was Paladino’s turn, he echoed his apology offered during his testimony Tuesday, when he said he wished he could take back the disparaging comments about the Obamas.
“I stood right from the beginning behind the remarks that I made and I apologize to those that I hurt, and especially in my family. It hurt. I was wrong,” he said. “And I said that, and I was done with it then, although they (the school board majority) weren’t done. Because now they want to use that to remove me.”