A majority of Buffalo School Board members met in a secret meeting Tuesday to discuss getting Carl P. Paladino removed from office – while excluding two of their colleagues.
Then on Wednesday, during an already raucous meeting, Superintendent Kriner Cash made his first public comments since the controversy started last month, saying Paladino's behavior warrants "consequences."
Those events unfolded as the state teachers union on Wednesday filed the first official petition asking State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to take action against the Buffalo board member.
Clearly, tensions are escalating in the effort to have Paladino removed from his seat on the board, reaching a crescendo just as Elia will have to make a decision on whether to remove him.
"Part of the problem with our young people today is they don't have any consequences for their behavior; that's a quote from Carl," said Cash, Elia's longtime colleague, whom she recommended for the superintendent position. "Well, consequences have to happen for everybody. It's a way of life. They happen for me. They happen for you. And how we respond in times like these test the very core, the very soul of our being."
Cash's comments came during a heated public meeting that started with Board Member Larry Quinn lambasting his colleagues for holding the secret meeting – and deliberately excluding him and Paladino.
Quinn's reference was to a meeting attended by a majority of board members on Tuesday to receive legal advice on their effort to get Paladino removed.
School Board President Barbara A. Seals Nevergold emailed a notice to all of the board members except Paladino and Quinn. She also did not put out any public notice of the meeting, which one government transparency advocate said violates the spirit of the state's Open Meetings Law even if it technically is legal.
Quinn, who was one of three board members to vote against seeking Paladino's removal Wednesday night, says that his colleagues' actions in excluding him from Tuesday's private session denied him his right as an elected official to participate in the conversation and seek legal counsel in an ongoing board matter.
"My real concern is that they deliberately excluded me and denied me the opportunity as to hear the opinion of our legal counsel," Quinn said.
One open government expert said that elected boards are allowed to meet privately to seek legal advice without publishing notice of the meeting to the public. But that exposes a loophole in the state's open government laws, which require that meetings be publicly advertised and offer only a handful of exemptions.
"I don't like it," said Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government. "But it's not illegal. It's a way around the open government law."
Freeman also said inviting only some members to the private meeting was legal. The School Board could have publicly advertised the meeting and then voted to go into an executive session to get legal advice, which it typically does. But had it done that, Freeman said, all board members would have been invited.
Several board members defended the meeting, saying it was their right to seek legal advice outside the public eye.
"We have not done anything illegal," Nevergold said during Wednesday's public board meeting. "We have not done anything in secret."
The conflict surrounding the meeting underscores what has become a tumultuous situation since Paladino published racist and inflammatory comments about President Obama and the first lady last month in Artvoice. The remarks garnered international attention and prompted thousands of people to call for Paladino's removal from the board.
Although he did not go so far as calling on Elia to remove Paladino, Cash on Wednesday joined the chorus of those chastising him for his statements.
In a rare move, Cash allowed Paladino to respond to speakers who turned out for the board meeting to speak out against him. Board members do not usually respond to speakers, but Cash said he wanted to give Paladino the opportunity to address the criticism that has mounted in recent weeks, and give him an opportunity to take responsibility for his behavior.
Paladino used the opportunity to reiterate criticism he has previously lodged against the district, and even told those seeking his ouster "I forgive you."
"The failures of the Buffalo Public Schools over the years speak for themselves," Paladino said. "I've done my very best to expose the whys in the background of why that’s happened. In doing that obviously I've made a lot of enemies and I've created a lot of adversaries and brought on a lot of acrimony."
Paladino's remarks drew sharp rebukes from some of his fellow board members, who noted it is not common practice to allow an individual member to respond to the public speakers. But Cash reiterated that he wanted to give Paladino a chance to hold himself accountable.
"What I can say is it's of extraordinary importance for all of us in a public office, in public education, to be accountable for everything we do; everything," Cash said.
"The behavior must have consequences," he continued, before alluding to the community reactions. "And the behavior goes beyond just the speech. It became more egregious after."
As a result, Cash said, everyone is now dealing with the fallout.