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School Board retains lawyer to help remove Paladino

The Buffalo Board of Education is looking to move quickly in its efforts to oust Carl P. Paladino from the board.

A majority of the School Board took a step Wednesday by voting to retain the law firm of Frank W. Miller, based in the Syracuse area, to assist in filing a formal petition with State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, after Paladino’s comments about President Obama and the First Lady resulted in a community firestorm.

The board felt it was important to retain an attorney from outside the Buffalo community to avoid any potential conflicts of interest, said Barbara Seals-Nevergold, School Board president.

Miller has more than 35 years of experience in labor and education law and is familiar with the removal process.

Board members went into executive session late Wednesday afternoon to discuss attorneys to possibly represent the district and emerged more than an hour later when the seven board members in attendance voted to retain Miller's firm. Paladino and board member Larry Quinn didn't attend the meeting.

Hundreds of petitions on a variety of issues are sent to the commissioner every year for action and typically are filed within 30 days of the incident, which in the Paladino case took place on Dec. 23.

Once filed, the petition can sometimes take as long as 10 months for a decision from the commissioner, but last week Elia’s office said they are paying close attention to this “unusual situation” in Buffalo and once the petition is received they will “review it as quickly as possible.”

Paladino also will have an opportunity to defend himself to the commissioner and could appeal any ruling in court.

"It's just a waste of time and money," Paladino told The Buffalo News late Wednesday. "They'll have to pay for my lawyer, too. They could consult the Constitution and know that it's protected speech."

When asked how long it might take for the commissioner to give her decision, Nevergold said: "That, you'll have to ask her. I would hope that she would be as expeditious as possible, but I don’t know how the machinery down in Albany works."

The uproar began Dec. 23 over crude and disparaging comments Paladino made to the local publication Artvoice, about the president and first lady.

The School Board, in a 6-to-2 vote, last Thursday called on Paladino to resign within 24 hours, but he said he would not.

Now, the board begins the process of petitioning the commissioner to oust Paladino.

School board members in favor of seeking his removal have argued that Paladino's latest comments underscore an ongoing pattern of behavior that they said includes harassment and bullying of his colleagues on the board and members of the administration. That behavior, they said, interferes with the board's ability to conduct business.

In the appeal to Elia, the School Board argued that Paladino violated the state’s Dignity for All Students Act, which requires school districts to provide students with an environment free of discrimination, harassment and bullying. The law went into effect in 2012, but is not believed to have been used in the removal of an elected official.

Board member Patricia Pierce, a Paladino ally, last week voted against calling on Paladino to resign. On Wednesday, however, she agreed to have outside counsel represent the district in this matter.

"This has created a situation here in our community and within the district that has just been raw with emotion," Pierce said, "and I don't think that we as a board...have the authority to have Mr. Paladino removed and, therefore, the proper person should make that decision."

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