ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) — In a day featuring intense testimony and rapid-fire questions, Buffalo school board member Carl Paladino contended he was informing his constituents about a “rigged” teacher contract, and not illegally disclosing confidential information.
He also took the opportunity during direct questioning by his attorney Dennis Vacco to apologize for his comments about the Barack and Michelle Obama, saying he wished he could take them back.
“I think some of the most compelling testimony that we heard today from Carl was his remorse over the really low and despicable comments that he made,” Vacco said. “And I say that with him standing right next to me, because he expressed his remorse today I think better than he has any time since those comments were made.”
Indeed, Paladino’s testimony about his reasoning for writing disparaging and racist comments about the Obamas took on a very different tone than what he’s said during public board meetings since his December story appeared in Artvoice.
“There’s no excuse for how I was thinking at that moment,” Paladino said. ‘I was thinking about Obama and his wife. It led me to make a terrible error in allowing that message to go public. And I sincerely regret my words. I regret thinking them and saying them. I regret the shame I brought on myself and my kids.
“It wasn’t a good day for me,” he added.
Paladino has since the comments he wrote were never intended for publication, and that he sent them to the publication by mistake.
He also said he was given an opportunity by Artvoice to write additional stories, which appeared on Jan. 5 and Jan. 14. What he revealed in those articles is the subject of the petition to remove him from the board.
In the petition, the school board majority alleges Paladino disclosed information he learned during executive sessions. Specifically, they said he revealed confidential information about the negotiation for a new contract with the Buffalo Teachers Federation, a pending lawsuit with LP Ciminelli — which the district has since lost and is now appealing — and disciplinary action taken against East High School Principal Casey Young.
“He’s got an obligation to his constituents,” Vacco said. “He’s got a fiduciary responsibility to his oath of office and to his constituents, and that’s what motivated him.”
Paladino said millions of dollars were spent out of the district’s reserve fund, as a result of a broken promise by Superintendent Kriner Cash. He also said (twice) that the FBI is investigating the nearly $1.4 billion deal with Ciminelli to renovate the district’s school buildings.
A spokeswoman for the FBI’s Buffalo field office said Tuesday the agency does not confirm nor deny the existence of an any investigation.
“If the public doesn’t know that, they don’t know that their servants aren’t serving their interests well,” Vacco said. “If it’s not for guys like Paladino and (board member Larry) Quinn.
Quinn, a Paladino ally, took the stand during Tuesday’s morning session.
Quinn testified he agreed with Paladino’s stance that information about the teacher contract should be public, since the contract was ratified in October.
The school board’s attorney, Frank Miller, says there is no justification for revealing confidential information.
“It’s just nonsense. It means that any time a person makes an argument that this is somehow the public interest is going to be served by betraying a confidence then there never is going to be anything that’s confidential,” Miller said. “If we adopt Carl Paladino’s approach, there’s nothing that’s going to remain confidential.”
In her first public comments since the hearing in Albany got underway, Board President Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold said she didn’t think Paladino would ever be welcomed back to the board.
“He doesn’t feel that he is bound by the policies that are related to executive session, and I suspect policies related to other things that control the board’s behavior,” she said. “He feels free to act on his own best belief in what he sees as the interests of his constituents at any time.”
The final day of the hearing is begins Wednesday, with closing arguments from both sides. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is expected to issue a written decision weeks after the hearing comes to an end.