Paladino Removal Hearing Wraps Up

Jun 27, 2017

Carl Paladino, left, walks with his his lawyers Jennifer Persico and Dennis Vacco last week in Albany.
Credit Mary Esch / AP Photo

Tuesday saw dramatic testimony in the hearing on whether former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino should be ousted from the Buffalo school board. Paladino took the stand and apologized for racist comments he made last December regarding President and Mrs. Obama.

Paladino was contrite when he spoke of the written remarks, made to a Buffalo newspaper on December 23, 2016. He said “there was no excuse” for even thinking the racially-charged comments about the Obamas. The Buffalo businessman said he brought “shame” on his family, his teenaged daughter was harassed, and he also badly hurt his effort to reform the Buffalo school system.

But Paladino grew feisty when he spoke about his anger toward other school board members, the superintendent of the Buffalo school district, Dr. Kriner Cash, and the President of the teachers union, Phil Rumore. He said their “scheming” led to a “rigged” teacher contract that he believed would drain the district's reserves and plunge it further into debt.

The petition from several school board members to remove Paladino is not about the racist comments. Instead, it accuses him of knowingly violating his oath of office because he leaked to the media details of teacher contract negotiations--information that was discussed in a closed door executive session of the board.

The attorney for the school board members, Frank Miller, said he believes that he proved his case through his questioning of Paladino.

“I think we proved our case overwhelmingly that Carl Paladino violated his oath of office,” Miller said. “The best proof of that is his own testimony.”

Miller said Paladino’s justification for the leaks is “laughable."

Paladino’s lawyer, former New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco, said he believes his client effectively argued that there was a compelling reason to disclose the information: the public’s right to learn what was in the teacher contract.

“I’m not conceding that he uttered confidential information,” Vacco said.  “If it was confidential, that he did so with a definite good faith effort in serving the public’s interest.”

And Vacco has counter-charged that the executive sessions themselves were potentially conducted in an illegal manner.

Vacco has argued all along that the case isn’t really about leaking information about the teacher contracts to the media. He said Paladino is actually being condemned for his controversial comments, which the former Attorney General admitted were inappropriate.

“Some of the most compelling testimony we’ve heard here today from Carl is his remorse over the low and despicable comments that he made,” said Vacco.

The school board first drafted a resolution in late December that demanded Paladino resign over the comments, or else they’d file a complaint with the state education department. After the board hired a lawyer, who told them the resolution was illegal, they came up with the second resolution: accusing Paladino of leaking secret information.

It might be several weeks before there’s a decision in the case. Both sides will now file legal briefs, and Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia, who presided over the hearing, will then issue a written decision.

The school board President, Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold, said even if the Buffalo businessman were allowed to stay on the board, she doesn’t think he could be an effective member.

“He’s indicated that he doesn’t feel that he’s bound by the policies related to executive session,” said Nevergold. “And I suspect, policies related to other things.”

And Nevergold said Paladino’s charges that the teacher contract was some kind of manipulative scheme are untrue. “I haven’t rigged anything," she said.

Regardless of the outcome of the hearing, Paladino has already filed a federal lawsuit against the board, charging that his constitutional rights to free speech have been violated.

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