Sunday, February 14, 2016

Why We Requested Legal Counsel

Contrary to what the Buffalo News portrayed as the actions of petulant adults, who “lack seriousness about education”, the Board minority’s request for legal counsel was the result of thoughtful deliberation and ongoing questioning of a pattern of behavior that is detrimental to the District and to our students.   The following memorandum (that was accompanied by exemplary documents) is the latest in a long succession of correspondence sent to members of the Board and the administration.  It was also sent to the Buffalo News, which decided to ignore the substance of this memo in the editorial even though a news story appeared on the subject the day before.

” For more than a year the minority members of the Board have written repeatedly to express our serious concerns about the behavior of Board member Paladino.  You (Mr. Sampson) and other members of the Board appear incapable or unwilling to address Mr. Paladino’s behavior and/or actions that ultimately impact the integrity of this Board and expose the Board and the District to litigious actions by District staff and community members.   There are numerous documented instances of a pattern of behavior by Mr. Paladino that is associated with legal actions filed against this Board and against him personally.  We have submitted numerous requests to you, as Board President, and to the Board as a whole to take a stance in opposition to this behavior.  

The Board majority’s refusal to address Mr. Paladino’s actions, indeed the silence of the Board as a corporate body sends the message that we all condone this behavior, even as members of the minority are consistently vocal in our opposition.  We are compelled to go on the record once again, not just to refute the statements, actions and behavior of Mr. Paladino but to request that the members of the minority have special counsel assigned to indemnify and defend us; to support the exercise of our fiduciary responsibility, to oppose attempts to disenfranchise our constituents by silencing our voices and assist us in matters where our interests/concerns diverge from those of the Board majority. 

The incident that has prompted this letter and request occurred at the special board meeting of January 6, 2016.  This meeting was called to consider an employment matter involving an employee who has a human rights complaint against the Board and Mr. Paladino, as an individual.  This complaint was initiated by the employee in February or March 2015 and amended on at least one occasion following publicly expressed egregious remarks made by Mr. Paladino about the employee.  In the open session of the January 6th meeting, Mr. Paladino made statements about the employee, using her name and describing “her incompetency on the job”.  He alleged that “She has cost the District hundreds of thousands of dollars in letting statutes go by.  She has cost the District, God know what issues that we have not even seen.  She has failed to disclose, she has failed to cooperate with the Superintendent, and she is a person who does not rise up to the standard of ability that we would expect for a General Counsel in this School District….”  He said much more aimed at the minority board members.  These remarks are a matter of public record in the Board minutes and also on a video recording of the meeting. 

Dr. Harris-Tigg did not attend this meeting.  However, Ms. Belton-Cottman, Ms. Kapsiak and Dr. Nevergold all spoke in opposition, citing the impropriety of these remarks; the potential for them to be construed as retaliatory; the unfairness of making unsubstantiated allegations and the inappropriate behavior of a Board member ignoring the potential legal damage he created.  No other Board member tried to intervene or speak to the damaging and inappropriate nature of Mr. Paladino’s actions. 

We believe that the continued tolerance of this behavior leaves the Board minority vulnerable and totally at the whim of the bloc of 5 and also puts the District at risk.  Our concerns regarding this matter have been ignored.  At the end of December 2015, costs incurred as a result of the legal actions against this Board exceeded $225,000.  A number of cases are pending and the legal fees continue to accrue.  Consequently we believe that the Board is threatened collectively and individually and the District is jeopardized by legal actions which result from actions that we have not initiated and do not condone.  On May 12, 2015, the minority members submitted, for the record, a request to be represented by special counsel.  Given the foregoing and what we anticipate will be ongoing exposure to legal liabilities, not of our creation, we are submitting this request again. 

We are submitting this request to be placed on the Board agenda for discussion at the February 10th meeting.”

To no one’s surprise the “discussion” was one sided as the majority members assumed a familiar posture of silence.  Again, they not only refuse to address the obvious costs incurred by the District when the corporate Board is sued in tandem with the Board member whose actions are responsible for the legal action.  But, they ignore the bigger picture of the “LESSON” their in-action teaches our students. 

We have a Code of Conduct that is supposed to operationalize the NYS Dignity for All Students Act.  We teach children that it’s wrong to bully and it’s also wrong to allow a bully to get away with his bad behavior.  In the language of anti-bully education, we encourage them to be an “up-stander” and to speak up about the harmful behavior they observe. However, the Board majority’s behavior communicates the message to students “Do as I say.  Not as I do.”  The Board minority is working to be exemplars of “up-standers” and our request for support from a legal professional is responsible and necessary.

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