Is it policy on the Buffalo School Board to insult the voters who elect its members? It seems that way – again – as the board’s majority squanders the moral high ground that Carl Paladino ceded with his vulgar and racist comments on former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama.
It did so by playing dirty in its efforts to remove Paladino from the board. Those efforts are understandable, though also debatable, given the free speech protections offered by the First Amendment.
Still, board members responding to Paladino’s free, if hateful, speech have every right to explore their options. But common decency, good sense and a commitment to open government still apply and the board failed on all three criteria last week when it met secretly to plot its moves against the ugly caricature that is Carl Paladino.
That the board did so within the bounds of state law does nothing to excuse its indifference to the interests of taxpayers and voters. Indeed, its action mainly serves to highlight a shortcoming in the state’s Open Meetings law.
The board, whose disgust with Paladino is evidently shared by Superintendent Kriner Cash, maneuvered to gather a majority in secret, giving no notice to Paladino, his bard supporter Larry Quinn or the public. As a legal matter, it slides on an unfortunate aspect of the law that allows elected boards to meet privately to seek legal advice without publishing notice of the meeting.
But to be legal is not necessarily to be correct – or ethical, or respectful or forthright. Sometimes, the law provides chickenhearts an avenue to pursue their goals – which may or may not be worthy – without having to contend with the inconveniences of democracy.
That’s what the School Board majority did, regardless of how Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold wants to spin it. It wants Paladino gone but doesn’t want to give him, or the public, notice of its machinations. That’s for cowards.
Cash, at least, had the decency and good judgment to give Paladino a chance to speak to the matter at a recent board meeting. But even that was met with objections from this disappointing board majority.
Cash is no fan of Paladino’s ugliness. Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting, Cash said, “Part of the problem with our young people today is they don’t have any consequences for their behavior; that’s a quote from Carl.
“Well, consequences have to happen for everybody. It’s a way of life. They happen for me. They happen for you. And how we respond in times like these test the very core, the very soul of our being.”
How Cash responded that night was to go the extra mile, giving Paladino a chance to address his critics and to take responsibility for his actions. Predictably, Paladino did the former and rejected the latter. Instead, he repeated criticisms of the district, many of which were valid but irrelevant to the question of his conduct. Instead, he had the temerity to “forgive” those calling for his ouster rather than pleading for their forgiveness.
Americans are forgiving people. When people own up to mistakes or terrible misconduct, and show true regret, they can have a second chance. That’s not for Paladino and it’s among the reasons – not all of them salutary – that so many people, including members of the School Board, are eager to be done with him.
Anyone can see why the board is disgusted with Paladino. But meeting in secret doesn’t help the cause; it just gives voters reason to be disgusted with the board.