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BTF leader testified at day two of Paladino hearing

WBFO News photo by Karen DeWitt

The hearing for Buffalo School Board member Carl Paladino wrapped up around 4:30 Friday afternoon in Albany because there were no more witnesses to call. New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia adjourned the hearing earlier than planned and was frustrated with the attorneys for not having witnesses standing by at the Education Department to appear for testimony.     

The school board wants Paladino removed for revealing executive session information about the teaches contract talks in an Artvoice article.

The board’s majority attorney Frank Miller didn’t have his three other witnesses ready. Paladino’s attorney Dennis Vacco plans to call Buffalo School Board members Larry Quinn and Patty Pierce as well as Paladino.

The District’s general counsel Nate Kuzma was the first witness called Friday.  Kuzma was involved in teacher contract talks with the Buffalo Teachers Federation. Kuzma testified about the confidentially of the information.  Kuzma was asked if Paladino ever asked him about releasing contract information discussed in executive session and Kuzma responded "no". 

Board attorney Miller addressed the issue of confidentiality with reporters during a break.

“And I strongly disagree in keeping anything from the public – we’re not, it’s just that when you are involved in those negotiations you need to have the ability to protect those discussions especially those tragedy discussions,” Miller explained.

He further defended Theresa Harris-Tigg who refused to respond to questions by the defense regarding confidential information on teacher talks, saying "Those were conversations with the lawyers in a confidential setting, and she respects that privilege enough to have, not once, but twice filed petitions to remove people who violated that sacred privilege. So, I commend her for her actions. I think what she did was absolutely the right thing."

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore was also called to testify. Paladino Attorney Dennis Vacco asked Rumore if he threatened the school superintendent with a strike. Rumore responded "no". 

Vacco felt that Rumore's testimony was a key part of the day's developments, stating "How do you explain Phil Rumore showing up here today. His testimony today was bought and paid for with that contract. He made it very clear that the six people who voted for this contract, and the six people who are the petitioners in this case, they were all supported by him and [the New York State Education Department] and his union in the last election, and to me, that's the biggest take away."

Vacco is also questioning information that Superintendent Kriner Cash asked the board for $10-million dollars to prepare for a strike. 

Vacco told reporters Paladino released information on the teacher talks well after the contract was approved.

“Releasing information about the negotiations two and a half months after the contract was signed is based upon good faith belief that the information he was writing about in that article was in the public interest,” Vacco stated.

Buffalo News Education Reporter Tiffany Lankes covered the past two-days of the hearing and referred to Paladino’s article outlining those closed door conversations on the teachers’ contract. Lankes tells WBFO News testimony from Monday centered around Paladino writing about confidential information publicly.

“The other interesting thing is from Thursday, Carl wrote those comments in Artvoice about what transpired during the executive session and you really had no way of verifying whether or not he said was true or not, but Barbara Seals Nevergold, on the stand, really did affirmed that those were the items discussed in the executive session, kind of the worry about a strike and Superintendent Cash wanting the extra $10 million dollars to settle the contract and thought he could still get some management rights for it,” explained Lankes.    

By Friday afternoon three of the school board’s majority members were called to testify. Theresa Harris-Tigg, Sharon Belton-Cottman and Paulette Woods all appeared.  

The hearing is set to resume Monday at 1 p.m. Commissioner Elia noted it would go late.  

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