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Paladino hearing begins in Albany

WBFO News photo by Karen DeWitt

The long-anticipated hearing for Buffalo School Board member Carl Paladino begins in Albany Thursday morning. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley has this preview.   

Protests against Paladino continued at this week's Buffalo School board meeting. But State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is the only one who has the authority to remove Paladino. 

“This is all unchartered territory. We will have to see how this all plays out,” said Jay Worona, deputy executive director & general counsel with the New York State School Boards Association.

In a WBFO News interview Worona declared this hearing is "unprecedented”.

“That in order to remove an individual the commissioner has to find that they have willfully violated the provisions of the law and in this instance the provisions of the law would be contained in the Public Officers law and the general Municipal law, which requires school board members to keep confidential all of the information that is contained in the context of executive session,” noted Worona.

The commissioner will hear testimony in response to a school board petition for xix board members are calling for his removal for violating executive session rules. They say he violated executive session board rules when he revealed private board discussions from an executive session about the teachers’ contract printed in Artvoice.  

“I think the ramifications of this are very serious. I think board members are expected to keep confidential information – actually it protects the public,” Worona explained.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Karen DeWitt
Paladino's attorney Dennis Vacco begins opening arguments at the hearing.

Paladino is claiming he released the teacher contract information to prevent a “crime or fraud” by the board. Original calls to remove him all stem from Paladino's racist remarks made in December against the Obamas in an Artvoice article. He admits he wrote the comments, but he is claiming his First Amendment rights for free speech have been violated.

“But the only reason they’re concerned about the so-called violation of confidentiality is because they are upset with what he said, so that’s his defense,” Worona remarked.

“As the New York State School Boards Association this is something that does concern us,” declared Tim Kremer, Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association.   

Kremer tells WBFO News they're worried this case will give a false impression to the nation about how boards operate.

“Particularly the Buffalo School board is operating in some nefarious way” – that these are not people who are honest brokers – not people committed to public educator in their community, and they are”. “It shouldn’t be this way. We hate to see this kind of conflict blow up in a national manner, so that people are seeing this and believing that this is how all urban boards operate or certainly the ones there in New York and that is just simply not the case” stated Kremer. 

“Although we have waited a really long time, I do feel confident that the commissioner’s office has followed due process,” said Rachel Dominguez with the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organizations.

Dominguez was one the lottery and was granted a seat inside the hearing room.

“Information will come out that explains what a distraction Carl Paladino has been to the parents, teachers and most especially to students,” Dominguez responded.

About a dozen witnesses have been called to testify, that includes all nine city school board members have been called to testify. Six members of the board's majority to appear against Paladino. Board members Patty Pierce and Larry Quinn voted against removing Paladino and expected to appear for his defense. The hearing could extend into next week.   

“I hope that there is quite a bit of case law,” said Dominguez.

Under the state’s Education law Worona tells us there is no provision for reprimanding or suspending a board member.     

“Well she can certain slap him on the hand what by what she might right in an option – but that wouldn’t necessary have any specific teeth to it. If she were to explore suspending him for a while I don’t know of any precedent for that and I don’t know that’s really contained in the law.

WBFO's Albany correspondent Karen DeWitt will be covering the Paladino hearing.

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