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As Paladino protests continue, board looks to outside counsel

The Buffalo Board of Education has called a special session Wednesday to discuss hiring outside legal counsel to help file a formal petition with the state education commissioner seeking the removal of one of its own – Carl P. Paladino – after his racist comments about President Barack Obama and the first lady sparked a community firestorm.

The School Board, in a 6 to 2 vote last Thursday, called on Paladino to resign within 24 hours. He didn’t.

Now, the board begins the process of petitioning New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to oust Paladino.

Petitions to the commissioner generally are filed within 30 days of the incident – which in this case erupted Dec. 23 – a school official said.

“To handle the matter internally is a conflict of interest for the general staff. That is why the board is seeking outside counsel,” said Nathaniel Kuzma, general counsel for the school district.

The board is expected to go into executive session at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss potential options, before returning to open session for a vote.

Meanwhile, the growing chorus calling for Paladino’s ouster continued Tuesday with another rally outside of City Hall.

This time, an ad hoc group of African-American women called “Oust Paladino” staged the noon rally in Niagara Square, reiterating that they, too, wanted the commissioner to remove Paladino from the board.

"We consider Mr. Paladino’s recent remarks regarding President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to be not only inappropriate in public discourse, but damaging to the psyche of all children, especially African-American children, who were not shielded from his vile diatribe,” said Lorna C. Hill, a community activist and organizer of Tuesday’s rally.

“As African-American women and mothers, we want to send a loud and clear message that his type of racism and sexism is personally and institutionally hurtful and has no place in the Buffalo Public Schools,” Hill said.

The group also singled out Mayor Byron W. Brown, calling on him to press for Paladino's removal. Brown last week called on Paladino to resign, but the mayor declined Tuesday to call for his ouster.

“It is a process that I have no authority, no legal control over,” said Brown, who did not attend the rally but was asked about the Paladino controversy by a Buffalo News reporter. “That process has already begun with members of the School Board, who have voted to request the commissioner of the State Education Department to remove that individual.”

More than 100 people rallied in Niagara Square in the rain Tuesday promising weekly – if not daily – assemblies until the controversial board member is removed.

But the event also attracted several Paladino supporters who stood off to the side with signs in a counter-rally. Their presence created a few tense exchanges between Paladino supporters and opponents.

Contacted by text message after the rally, Paladino declined to comment.

The public is expected to weigh in on the issue again at 1:30 p.m. Thursday during the Common Council Education Committee meeting in City Hall.

This most recent community uproar over comments made by Paladino began Dec. 23 with an article in Artvoice about New Year's wishes, in which Paladino wished Obama would die of mad cow disease and said the first lady should live with a gorilla.

The board could have voted to remove Paladino, but would have had to make a case for official misconduct.

The board, in a 6-2 vote with Paladino absent, instead agreed to petition the commissioner, who has somewhat broader authority and can remove board members for neglecting duties or violating state law.

In its appeal to Elia, the School Board argues 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.

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