Rod Watson: Paladino hearing sheds light on board's love of secrecy - The Buffalo News

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Rod Watson: Paladino hearing sheds light on board's love of secrecy

With the Carl Paladino hearing over, the betting window is now open.

In the race from the bottom to respect the citizens who pay their salaries, the front-runners have to be the Buffalo School Board and the Erie County Water Authority – if only because they have so much to clean up.

After running with the pack so for so many years, the School Board made itself the odds-on favorite during the tribunal to try to oust the Park District member. When his attorneys flayed President Barbara Seals Nevergold over the board’s illegal private sessions, it revealed a public body that routinely insults the public by hiding in executive session without properly disclosing the reasons.

In fact, the very meeting at which the board majority decided to move against Paladino was called without notifying the public – or even two board members who might oppose such a move.

No matter how the hearing in Albany turns out, it has opened a window on how the School Board regularly closes the door on the public.

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With that kind of pedigree, you might think there’s no catching the board. But don’t sell the Water Authority short.

This is the bunch that gave its former board chairman – a history major with no engineering experience – the $145,000 executive director’s job without any type of national search. But that’s just the half of it. The original meeting agenda sent to reporters made no mention of the appointment, nor was it mentioned when a reporter asked the authority’s PR flack less than an hour before the meeting.

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And after the meeting?

Neither the newly minted executive director nor the chairman had anything to say to the public, despite the fact that the authority has doubled the amount it spends on "public education."

Of course, there are others in the race. Hamburg – which tried to keep secret details of a multi-million sports complex proposal – can give any municipality a run for its money when dashing behind closed doors. In fact, the field is huge: Erie County when it comes to its jails, the University at Buffalo Foundation on how it raises and spends $1 billion in assets, the Village of Lancaster when it came to a proposal for reviving its business district.

So which will be first to shape up after Paladino’s hearing spotlighted the public’s right to know?

With its new leadership, maybe it will be easier for the Water Authority to break from the pack. On the other hand, oddsmakers pick the School Board, if for no other reason than because its members have to face the public in elections.

But I wouldn’t bet the rent money on any of them because there is one common denominator in all of these cases: the public’s lack of outrage. Or concern. Or even passing interest.

True, such secrecy has spawned the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government, which is doing good work. But I have yet to see evidence that the public at large gives a darn.

Maybe if betting were involved, citizens who wager a few bucks might pay as much attention to government secrecy as they do to lottery results.

Of course, there already is money involved. Who knows how much the Paladino hearing will cost taxpayers. And each of these public entities makes decisions affecting hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars each year.

But those are just public dollars, and who cares about that?

 

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