Carl P. Paladino is out as a member of the Buffalo Board of Education.
That’s the ruling today from State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, according to the board’s attorney.
“He is out effective immediately,” said Frank W. Miller, the board’s attorney. “The commissioner wrote a 33-page decision in which she went through and analyzed and knocked down all the various arguments he made.”
After a prolonged public outcry, a formal petition to have him removed and a five-day hearing to decide his fate, Elia ended months of speculation Thursday when she ruled that Paladino’s actions warrant his removal.
Paladino’s inflammatory comments from December about former president Barack Obama and his wife started this public push for his ouster. But that’s not the legal reason he was thrown off the board: Elia concluded that Paladino broke education law when he publicly disclosed private information from an executive session.
“The record demonstrates that respondent disclosed confidential information regarding collective negotations under the Taylor Law, which he gained in the course of his participation as a board member in executive session,” according to a copy of the decision obtained by The Buffalo News, “and that his disclosures constituted a wilful violation of law warranting his removal from office…”
“It is ordered that respondent Carl Paladino be, and he hereby is, removed from the office of member of the Board of Education…” Elia wrote.
The decision has not yet been formally released by the state Education Department.
“It was a powerful decision,” Miller said. “She found that it was a willful violation of the open meetings law.”
“Justice has been delivered,” Miller said. “The message sent now is that regardless of station in life no one is above the law.”
[PDF: Commissioner’s ruling on petition against Paladino]
No matter what ruling the commissioner decided to hand down, it was likely either side would appeal in court.
And Paladino – ever determined to shake things up in the impoverished urban school district – has indicated he will, should the commissioner rule against him.
In fact, Paladino already has been on the offensive, filing a federal lawsuit against the board majority for trying to have him removed. More recently, he has argued that the whole board should go – even him – and a special master be appointed to run the school system.
Paladino – an attorney, developer and former gubernatorial candidate – has long been a polarizing figure.
Paladino’s opponents on the board have unsuccessfully tried to boot him off the board – and he tried to remove some of them. But a huge public backlash erupted last December when Paladino made racially charged comments about the Obamas.
Outrage and calls for Paladino to resign grow over Obama comments
Those comments – in the wake of a bitter presidential election – garnered national attention and ignited calls for Paladino’s removal from his seat representing the Park District on the School Board.
Six of Paladino’s nine colleagues on the board quickly moved to get rid of him.
The board majority orginally sought his removal for the comments about the Obamas, but then quickly changed course on the advice of their attorney, who said that would be infringing on Paladino’s right to free speech.
Instead, the board majority argued that Paladino violated policy when he subsequently published information about the new teachers contract discussed privately in executive session.
As the weeks and months wore on, Paladino’s foes continued to hound him, protesting during monthly board meetings and even rallying in Albany at the state Education Building.
Hearing underscores longstanding tension on Buffalo School Board
As recently as Wednesday, Paladino protesters delayed the board meeting with calls and shouts for his removal.
In June, all those involved gathered in Albany to testify before the education commission during what some called an unprecedented hearing, where both sides got to make their case.
Paladino’s legal team, managed to redirect the focus by arguing that this was all a witch hunt.
Those seeking Paladino’s removal, the Paladino camp argued, were really retaliating for his inflammatory remarks about the Obamas and in doing so were trampling all over Paladino’s First Amendment rights.
Paladino and his attorneys also tried to turn the tables, accusing other board members of routinely holding improper executive sessions and releasing confidential information when they launched a press campaign publicizing the district’s bargaining positions during teacher contract negotiations.
The board’s attorney, meanwhile, remained solely focused on the argument that by breaking the rules of executive session Paladino broke education law and disrupted the business of the board – both of which he would continue to do if he’s not stripped of his board seat.
In the end, Elia – who was herself facing public pressure to get rid of Paladino – sided with the board majority.
Seldom does the commissioner remove a sitting School Board member.
Roughly 600 petitions to remove a school board member have reached the commissioner’s desk since 1993, according to the state School Boards Association. Only 15 board members were removed.
Paladino makes 16.
This is a developing news story. Check back for updates.
• Hearing underscores longstanding tension on Buffalo School Board
• Carl Paladino makes his case – for both sides
• 2010 profile: ‘Warrior’ Carl Paladino loves the fight
• 2015: Carl Paladino’s ‘Asian’ comments spark condemnation, discussion