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Dismissal of Buffalo School Board’s counsel allows superintendent to put together the team he wants

The bottom line on the change in general counsel for Buffalo Public Schools is that the district’s new superintendent, Kriner Cash, should be able to put in place the team he wants. To that end, the majority on the School Board dismissed a counsel it found ineffective and hired the person Cash wanted in the position. It was, in the end, a reasonable and defensible decision.

The School Board last week fired Rashondra M. Martin as general counsel and hired Edward M. Betz, as recommended by Cash. The board’s majority bloc found Martin to be unsuited to the job. The dismissed attorney had been hired by former Superintendent Pamela C. Brown.

The complaints of the board’s minority bloc notwithstanding, the action appears to be warranted, if for no other reason than the superintendent should have the team in place that he wants, not one that someone else dictates. That’s the necessary first step to holding leaders accountable for their performance.

There were also serious questions about Martin’s performance. Members of the majority bloc complained that she failed to disclose important information to the superintendent and board and that she didn’t cooperate with Cash.

Minority bloc members said the action seemed punitive, given that Martin had filed a civil rights complaint against Board Member Carl Paladino. They also noted that even though Betz has no experience with School Board law or as a district counsel, his proposed salary of $160,000 is $33,000 more than Martin was paid.

But, as Betz’s supporters pointed out, he has ample qualifications: He is a former assistant corporation counsel for the City of Buffalo and a former general counsel for the Erie County Water Authority. In addition, he has extensive knowledge of state Civil Service Law and the Taylor Law, which governs labor issues. What is more, he is experienced in public employee relations matters. That’s a solid resume and, as with Martin, he will be expected to perform at a level that justifies his salary.

Those facts also weaken the minority bloc’s claim of punitive action against Martin because of her civil rights complaint. Nevertheless, it is fair to observe that Paladino, once again, did no favors to himself or the district by publicly berating Martin over an inadequate response to a parliamentary question, once asking her, “How can you be so ignorant?” One might ask the same question of an elected official who doesn’t know better than to publicly insult an employee.

Regardless, if this is a public controversy, it is a minor one. Martin served at the pleasure of the board, whose majority was displeased with her performance. So was the superintendent, who wanted someone else in that position.

It’s done. Now let’s worry about giving a solid education to the children of Buffalo.