Buffalo School Board fills Paladino's seat - after judge denies restraining order - The Buffalo News
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Buffalo School Board fills Paladino's seat -- after judge denies restraining order

A pediatric psychologist from South Buffalo has been selected to fill the vacancy on the Buffalo Board of Education left open by ousted Board Member Carl P. Paladino, despite Paladino's efforts to fight the appointment in court.

Catherine Flanagan-Priore, 43, a pediatric psychologist at Women and Children’s Hospital, was chosen Monday night to fill the vacant Park District seat on the nine-member board after three days of interviews with 15 potential candidates.

She is expected to be sworn in on Wednesday.

Hours prior to the selection, Paladino had his first day in court — and it didn't go his way.

Paladino's attorneys asked a judge Monday for a temporary restraining order to prevent the board from appointing someone to the Park District seat while Paladino appeals the ruling by state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to remove him.

The judge said no.

"I'm going to deny that," said State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent-Panepinto, "because I think the greater harm is that no one will be representing the Park District."

The judge, in fact, served on the Buffalo School Board for a period of time, after being elected to the board in 2007.

"I think the people of the Park District need someone at the table representing them," she said.

Flanagan-Priore, who earned a doctorate in philosophy and counseling psychology from the University at Buffalo, provides evaluations and support to children being treated in the hematology/oncology unit at Women and Children's.

During her public interview with the board last week, she spoke about the need to focus on early childhood literacy, raise high school graduation rates and try to bring charter school families back into the district.

Her selection was a unanimous decision made by seven members of the board, after more than one hour in executive session. The only absent member was Board Member Larry Quinn.

Board members thought Flanagan-Priore filled a void on the board, said Board Member Sharon Belton-Cottman, who led the candidate interviews.

"I think it was her life experience and her career choices that really impressed me," Belton-Cottman said. "Certainly when you look at what she's done, what her work has been focused in, it certainly fills the need of our children and we'll be proud to work with someone who has put such devotion into working with children."

Belton-Cottman said it was a tough choice for the board to make, particularly when it came to passing on two candidates who were past School Board presidents.

"It was really difficult," Belton-Cottman said. "We had a lot of great talent that presented themselves and we're really pleased to know so many people care about what's going on in our school district and want to make a difference."

Earlier, in court, Dennis C. Vacco, Paladino's attorney, did not take issue with Nugent-Panepinto's past service on the School Board, nor did he push the court to reinstate Paladino to the board while his appeal moves forward.

Instead, Vacco went to court late Monday afternoon seeking a temporary restraining order that would prevent the eight board members from filling Paladino's vacant seat.

The court appearance came just hours before the School Board met Monday night to continue interviewing candidates.

Vacco argued the appointment would only further complicate matters should Paladino win his appeal.

"We believe the status quo doesn't hurt anybody," Vacco told the judge.

Attorneys for the state Education Department and School Board, however, argued that the board, by law, is required to select someone to the vacant seat within 30 days or the appointment would be filled by the mayor.

Friday is the board's deadline.

Besides, the state and School Board attorneys argued, the greater harm is that the people of the Park District would go unrepresented for however long it takes for the appeal to go through the court process. The judge agreed.

Despite the judge's decision, Paladino's attorney still felt confident about the appeal filed Monday.

Elia removed Paladino from the School Board last month for publicly disclosing private information from a School Board executive session — which happened in the wake of his inflammatory comments about former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.

"Our appeal of the decision to remove Carl Paladino will challenge the numerous factual and legal errors made by Commissioner Elia," Vacco said outside the courtroom. "Our request for a temporary restraining order only sought temporary relief but has no bearing on the merits of our appeal."

Vacco also is seeking a change of venue so the appeal can be heard in Erie County as opposed to Albany, where the commissioner made the ruling. The judge made no decision on that request, but could rule on the issue by the end of the month.

 

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