Says hiring of Brown lacked transparency

So much for a grace period from Carl P. Paladino for incoming Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown.

Paladino, a harsh critic of some of her predecessors, is going to court to block her hiring.

In court papers, the Buffalo developer says the Board of Education violated New York’s Open Meetings Law when it hired her and then agreed to pay her $800 a day as a consultant whenever she’s in Buffalo before her final contract is approved.

“The board violated the spirit and intent behind the Open Meetings Law by discussing specifics in executive session while casting their votes in open session and permitting questions only after that vote was taken and recorded,” Paladino says in his Article 78 legal action in State Supreme Court.

A court hearing is scheduled next Wednesday.

Board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak, who represents the Central District, declined to comment on the issue Wednesday other than to say, “I don’t know why he filed a lawsuit. I can’t really comment on it.”

Louis J. Petrucci, who represents the South District and was board president at the time of the June 13 vote to hire Brown, could not be reached to comment.

The board approved the hiring of

Brown, a former Philadelphia administrator, as school superintendent by a 7-2 vote. It met in executive session for about an hour and a half, then took a public vote on Brown’s appointment with no public discussion about the new superintendent.

The board approved a transition agreement with her June 27, including the $800 per diem as a consultant.

“The Board of Education failed to conduct open public meetings for discussions for the appointment of the new superintendent and for contractual negotiations,” Paladino says in court papers.

“As a result of the Board of Education’s failure to discuss the appointment and transitional contract in an open public meeting, the school district of Buffalo and its taxpayers have been denied public interest rights afforded to them under New York law,” he says.

Paladino is asking the court to rule Brown’s hiring and the transitional agreement null and void. He also wants the court to declare the creation of the consultant’s position null and void, as well as declare the board’s actions to be in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

Paladino said Board of Education members began discussing candidates for the post May 20.

“From that date forward, discussions, including interviews of the candidates, have been held primarily in executive session rather than open meetings where the public is invited to and encouraged and expected to be active participants,” Paladino says in court papers.

Paladino also says, “The Board of Education did not afford the general public an opportunity to be actively engaged in discussions during a public meeting concerning the appointment of the new superintendent, therefore as matter of law the appointment of Dr. Pamela Brown should be null and void,” Paladino says in court papers.

The legal paperwork submitted by Paladino included a clause that would prevent Brown from making any decisions as superintendent or as a consultant until next week’s hearing, but that clause was crossed out in the court papers, indicating that State Supreme Court Justice Timothy J. Drury did not agree to that.

More than a week before the vote to hire Brown, Petrucci had said Board of Education members would discuss the candidates’ merits and “see if we can reach consensus.”

At the time, the state’s expert on the state’s Open Meetings Law said that’s something that should be done in an open meeting.

“If a consensus is essentially a decision, in the case of a school board, the action taken to select a superintendent could only occur during an open meeting,” Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, told The Buffalo News in early June. “The courts have established that boards of education must take their actions in public except in rare circumstances, and this would not be one of them.”

plakamp@buffnews.com

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