Nearly one week before the New York education commissioner is to begin a hearing to decide whether Buffalo school board member Carl Paladino should be removed from the board, Paladino has filed a federal lawsuit against the district and six of his board colleagues, the Buffalo News reports.
Paladino has been embroiled in a standoff with a majority of the school board since last December after he made derogatory comments about former President Obama, his wife Michelle Obama, and top aide Valerie Jarrett that were published in a local weekly. Paladino said in his published comments that he wished that President Obama catches mad cow disease in 2017 and dies as a result.
The board voted on Dec. 29 to demand that Paladino resign within 24 hours or the members would ask the state education commissioner to remove him. When Paladino didn’t resign, a majority of the members later voted to make an official request to the commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, citing disclosure of confidential board proceedings related to contract negotiations with the teachers’ union.
Paladino has apologized for his comments, but has always said that he would fight efforts to oust him. He argues in the filing that the board members are seeking to kick him off the board in retaliation for his comments about the former president and his wife, and are using the charge of disclosure of confidential information as a cover to get rid of him, the Buffalo News reports.
WIVB, a local NBC affiliate, reports the lawsuit alleges that the board’s actions violate Paladino’s civil rights and First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit names the district and school board as defendants. It also names Barbara Seals Nevergold, the board president, and members Sharon Belton-Cottman, Theresa Harris-Tigg, Hope Jay, Jennifer Mecozzi and Paulette Woods, the paper said. They were the six who voted to demand Paladino’s resignation in December after the comments about the Obamas were published in the Artvoice.
Paladino’s allies, Patricia Pierce and Lawrence Quinn, voted against the December resolution.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages, but does not ask for next Thursday’s hearing to be cancelled, the Buffalo News reports.
“My client feels very strongly that his constitutional rights, including his right to free speech have been violated by the actions of the majority members of the Board, the Board of Education and the school district as a result of a resolution that was passed seeking to remove my client from elected office,” Dennis Vacco, Paladino’s attorney, was quoted as saying in the Buffalo News. “Certain members of the Board of Education are seeking Carl’s removal in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights.”
Next Thursday’s hearing has sparked so much interest that the department of education will set up a viewing room and seats will be assigned by a lottery.
Carl Paladino speaks to members of the media at Trump Tower, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in New York. --Andrew Harnik/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.