The new Buffalo Board of Education hasn’t even had its first business meeting yet, and there’s already division.
At the recent reorganizational meeting, James M. Sampson of the West District was elected president of the School Board but without the support of two members of the former majority. Sharon M. Belton-Cottman of the Ferry District voted against Sampson while Central District member Mary Ruth Kapsiak abstained.
When it came time to elect the vice president of the Executive Affairs committee, the old divisions resurfaced, primarily along racial lines. All four members of the former majority – Belton-Cottman, Kapsiak, the East District’s Theresa A. Harris-Tigg and at-large member Barbara A. Seals Nevergold – voted against Jason M. McCarthy’s reappointment and for Nevergold, who was nominated by Harris-Tigg. The women, all African-American, said McCarthy, who represents the North District, knowingly breached confidentiality by leaking information to a local publication, making him unfit for the position.
“We had a recent breach of policy in regards to an executive session. Critical information was released to Business First. To me, that is a major concern,” board member Belton-Cottman said during the meeting.
Kapsiak, who represents the Central District, agreed.
“It is not an allegation. Jay admitted to saying it,” she said.
The women’s charges stem from a June 16 article in Business First in which McCarthy is quoted referring to a closed, executive session that the board held about the departure of Superintendent Pamela C. Brown, who resigned June 16. The board members accused McCarthy of violating the district’s Code of Ethics policy, which requires confidentiality on discussions about litigation and matters related to attorney-client privilege.
“As a result of the foregoing violations, Mr. McCarthy has breached his fiduciary obligation as a Board of Education member,” they said in a letter the women submitted to the ethics committee June 17, asking that the matter be investigated.
McCarthy, who was ultimately reappointed by the new majority, declined to comment.
Robert Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, said there was no breach of confidentiality in this case or of client-attorney privilege.
“There was nothing privileged about what he said. It’s not as though he’s disclosing legal advice from Kristoff to the board. He didn’t do that,” said Freeman, referring to Karl Kristoff, the district’s special counsel.
Belton-Cottman disagreed with Freeman’s opinion.
“Based on the statement you read to me, that is contrary to what the board had been advised of,” she said after a Buffalo News reporter informed her of Freeman’s conclusion.
The leaking of information by various board members has been an problem since 2011, when she became a school board member, Belton-Cottman said.
“At the end of the day, we’ve had too many leaks. It’s been a known fact that there were board members that were leaving executive session and reporting to the news everything that happened in executive session. This is a problem that this board has had,” she said. “It’s unacceptable.”
Former board president Seals Nevergold said McCarthy’s actions are a matter of unethical behavior.
“I think this is an egregious act, and I think anybody on the board would have been called out on that,” she said.
Ethics Committee Chairman Roscoe Henderson did not return two phone calls Thursday seeking comment on the review process.
The new board will hold its first regular business meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.