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School Board will open interviews, deliberations on seat to the public

The public will be invited to watch the Buffalo Board of Education hold East District candidate interviews and deliberations, officials said.

Board members said the district's general counsel, Brendan P. Kelleher, has advised them that both parts of the process should be conducted in public. They plan to take that advice.

"That seems to be the consensus of the board," said board member Christopher Jacobs, vice president for executive affairs, who will oversee the interviews and deliberations.

The question of conducting the interviews and deliberations in public arose last week, when board President Ralph R. Hernandez mentioned during a committee meeting that he thought the interviews should be conducted in public. Chief of staff James M. Kane balked, saying candidate interviews in the district have always been done behind closed doors.

But Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government, said case law dating to 1996 indicates the interviews as well as the deliberations should be done in public.

A written opinion from Freeman cited a case that involved a municipal board filling a vacancy. "Certainly, the matter of replacing elected officials should be subject to public input and scrutiny," the judge wrote.

Hernandez and Jacobs said Monday that Kelleher told them the process should be conducted in public. Kelleher declined to comment on his advice to the board, saying it would violate attorney-client privilege.

More than a dozen people submitted resumes for the East District seat vacated by Vivian O. Evans. But more than half were disqualified, Kane said, either because they do not live in the East District or because they work for the district.

The six qualified candidates are: the Rev. Chris W. Brown Jr., a counselor and associate minister; Theresa A. Harris-Tigg, a college professor; Frank Leli, a substitute teacher; Anthony Mastrangelo, a radio station employee; Kent A.H. Olden, a graduate student who recently completed his studies; and Rosalyn L. Taylor, a retired assistant superintendent.

Interviews will begin at 5 p.m. Thursday in Room 801 of City Hall.

Florence Johnson, the longest-serving board member, is out of town on a vacation she had scheduled several weeks ago. She has asked to participate in the interviews remotely.

District officials are trying to establish a live video connection for Johnson on Thursday through Skype, an Internet-based service. Jacobs said on Monday that if Johnson can access Skype from her vacation spot, the videoconferencing should be a go.

A majority of board members last week said they want to hold off on voting on a candidate until after Johnson returns Jan. 20. The board has until Feb. 4 to appoint someone to the East District seat. If a board majority cannot agree on a candidate by then, the mayor will appoint someone.

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com

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