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Testy exchanges in Paladino hearing set stage for him to take stand

Day three of the hearing to remove Carl P. Paladino from the Buffalo School Board began Monday with School Superintendent Kriner Cash taking the stand and testifying that Paladino's public comments about the teacher contract hurt the district and its future contact negotiations.

Last year's contract negotiations are central to the proceedings because the board members seeking Paladino's removal say he violated board policy by disclosing confidential information about the contract in an Artvoice article.

"From what I read," Cash testified, "it was detrimental."

Cash was the first of two witnesses to testify in Albany on Monday during the third day of the hearing to remove Paladino from his Park District seat. The superintendent was questioned for about three hours Monday afternoon by attorneys from both sides.

Dennis C. Vacco, Paladino's attorney, tried numerous times to get Cash to talk in more detail about what took place during the executive session in question, but was repeatedly rebuffed by Cash.

"I don't discuss what's in executive session," Cash said. "I made that commitment."

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who is presiding over the hearing, on several occasions stopped the proceedings to confer with counsel about what line of questioning would and would not be admissible, but clearly there was frustration from the Paladino team.

"Another extraordinary, if not unbelievable, day where the lawyer for the School Board, or at least the six petitioners, continues to make these broad allegations and then when we try to drill down on what was said and what's confidential and what's not confidential, he throws up road blocks," Vacco, a former state attorney general, said outside the courtroom.

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Frank W. Miller, the attorney for the six School Board members seeking Paladino's removal, was not available for comment after Monday's proceedings.

"Dr. Cash is a nice enough guy, but he did a terrible job on the stand today. He was evasive. He didn't remember. He couldn't recall specifics of his communications with Phil Rumore," Vacco said, referring to the Buffalo Teachers Federation president who negotiated the new contract with Cash.

That tension came through during the hearing.

At one point, Vacco asked if Cash considered himself one of the petitioners to remove Paladino from the board.

"What's a petitioner?" Cash said. "It sounds ominous."

"Who do you consider to be the petitioner?" Vacco asked.

"Not me," Cash said.

Cash also offered a public glimpse into his views of the dynamics on the Buffalo School Board. He said that since last year's election, there appears to be no clear majority.

"I can't get a clear sense of what's the majority and what's the minority," Cash said. "Folks seem to be more individual at this time."

Vacco also pressed Cash on the fact that several board members received support from the BTF when running for office.

"Yes, I heard that," Cash said.

"Does that concern you?" Vacco asked.

"Not until I would see how they behaved as board members," Cash said.

Monday's hearing started at 1 p.m. to give the parties from Buffalo time to return to Albany after the weekend. Vacco wanted to break for the day after Cash testified, but Elia is pushing to get the hearing over as soon as Tuesday, if possible.

The day closed with the defense calling its first witness, Board Member Patricia Pierce, a Paladino ally, setting up a big day on Tuesday.

Up next: Board Member Larry Quinn, another Paladino ally, and Paladino himself.

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