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Buffalo School Board looks to contain Paladino

Maverick Carl Paladino takes a seat on the Buffalo School Board next week, and the current board members have been preparing for his arrival.

In the past two weeks, they’ve discussed and adopted regulations designed, in large part, to contain a man known for launching verbal assaults against the board, the superintendent and other administrators.

Specifically, they created a new sergeant-at-arms position to maintain “decorum and respect,” and they updated their Code of Ethics policy, articulating what information from closed-door meetings board members are not allowed to reveal to the public and when they must recuse themselves from voting.

Not all of these actions were triggered solely by Paladino’s election to the Park District seat, but board members acknowledge that his impending arrival is a serious concern.

“The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior,” said board member Barbara Nevergold, referring to Paladino.

Nevergold said she presented the resolution for a sergeant-at-arms in response to board member Florence Johnson’s concerns about decorum at future meetings.

“It’s important for us, as board members, to represent the district appropriately and professionally,” Nevergold said. “And also, we’re role models for the students. How can we be role models if we don’t conduct ourselves with decorum and respect for each other?”

Paladino isn’t bothered by all this as he prepares to take his board seat July 1. He’s amused – and still determined to have Pamela C. Brown fired as superintendent.

“My first motion is going to be for the dismissal of the superintendent,” he said.

The current board will meet as an official body for the last time Wednesday and say goodbye to board members Ralph Hernandez, Rosalyn Taylor and Lou Petrucci.

The board will hold its annual reorganizational meeting the following Monday, when Paladino, James Sampson and Theresa Harris-Tigg will be sworn in.

The board voted 7-2 at its last regular meeting to have the district’s legal counsel also serve under the new title of sergeant-at-arms, to maintain order at meetings.

Paladino, who was last thrown out of a board meeting in February, said he doesn’t see why such a position is necessary. “I think most of the other board members are bigger than I am, physically,” he said.

Now that the title of sergeant-at-arms exists, however, he said he might find it useful.

“If I think one of the board members is getting out of hand, I’ll have to ask the sergeant-at-arms to get rid of that person,” Paladino said.

The school board also has security officers who handle disruptive speakers, as Paladino knows first-hand.

In the past, Paladino’s fiery comments have been enough to get board member Florence Johnson to leave her seat and prompted other board members to roll their eyes.

“I’ve sat on many boards,” Paladino responded. “I know Robert’s Rules, and I understand general decorum. But of course, I’m not politically correct, and I’m going to use my position to shine a light on what I think is wrong.”

He added that he hopes he’s seated between Johnson and board member Sharon Belton Cottman, the two board members who are most visibly upset by his presence at meetings.

In addition, board members recently reviewed a final version of the board’s new Code of Ethics policy. The new policy is more explicit regarding what matters discussed behind closed doors cannot be disclosed to the public.

It also adds 17 lines of language about when and how board members must recuse themselves when a potential conflict of interest exists.

This would certainly apply to Paladino, who leases the Middle Early College building at 290 Main St. to the school district. Administrators are working to close the building when the lease with Paladino’s Ellicott Development company expires.

Several board members have reaffirmed a commitment to ensuring that the building is closed in December.

Paladino has also had a hand in the renovating, leasing and financing of Health Sciences Charter School, Tapestry Charter School and West Buffalo Charter School.

The developer reiterated Friday that he will not participate or vote on any matters involving Middle Early College. He was less sure about other votes that may involve other charter schools.

“I’d have to think that out,” he said.

The new Code of Ethics policy was in the works before Paladino’s election, said Cottman, chairwoman of the board’s Finance Committee. She said it has been on her radar ever since Buffalo Public Schools administrator Debbie Buckley was fired last year for improper spending of grant money.

“We’ve been working on that in committee for months,” she said.

The school board released the investigator’s report about Buckley’s misuse of more than $330,000 of anti-poverty money to benefit people and businesses close to her only after The Buffalo News filed a lawsuit through the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

Though Buckley’s actions triggered the new Code of Ethics policy, Paladino’s School Board election motivated district leaders to make sure the new Code of Ethics policy was as thorough and comprehensive as possible, Cottman said.

One thing Paladino and the remaining board members agree on, however, is that things are going to change.

Fellow incoming board member James Sampson agrees that’s likely to be the case. He’s been critical of the board’s leadership and said he supports a resolution reviewing the superintendent’s tenure to see if she is “the right person for the district at this point in time.”

“I suspect it’s not going to be nearly as collegial,” he said. “I think there’s going to be at least a few of us on the board who are going to bring up issues that need attention. We’re going to bring up things people don’t want to hear. That’s part of governance.”

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