BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Carl Paladino, now removed from his elected position on the Buffalo Public Schools Board of Education, said "it's not over 'til it's over" when reached by phone.
The 33-page decision from the state education commissioner outlined that Paladino willfully and wrongly released classified information, discussed in a closed-door executive session with board members.
Paladino, best known outside of Buffalo for running for governor as a Republican and losing to Andrew Cuomo, and then for early and vigorous support for Donald Trump's campaign in New York state, denied any wrongdoing during a five-days-long hearing in Albany, which was again echoed by him and his legal team.
Paladino's camp also argued his comments about the Obamas published in a local newspaper were the true reason school board members wanted him gone. Attorney Dennis Vacco questioned the timing.
"I can't help but wonder whether or not the events in Virginia, the unfortunate public debate that has now risen up around that, might not have motivated the timing of this decision," Vacco said.
Barbara Seals-Nevergold, the president of the board of education, maintains she and other members petitioned Commissioner MaryEllen Elia because of Paladino's disregard for executive session rules, but did admit his presence is a persistent distraction for the district. Vocal protests became regular occurances at board meetings.
"We've been trying to work through that as a board to continue to function and do what we need to do on behalf of the children of this district, and so we've done the best that we could given the circumstances," said Seals-Nevergold.
"This distraction has been removed from our Buffalo school board and we are now looking forward to focusing all of our energy on the important work that needs to be done for all of our schools and all of our children," said Larry Scott, the co-chair of the Buffalo parent-teacher organization, which was part of the petition to get Paladino removed.
Elia wrote that Paladino, in an op-ed piece to a local publication, revealed district negotiating strategies discussed during an executive session. She acknowledged the petitioners' argument that the revelations could negatively impact ongoing negotiations with teachers.
"I totally disagree with that," Paladino said. "The people have a right to know that contract was rigged."
"The commissioner has sent a loud and rather unequivocal message that these are serious issues and if you betray that responsibility, you will be removed from the board," said Frank Miller, counsel to the school board majority. “It confirms that no one is above the law regardless of their station in life.”
Paladino's attorneys say they will submit an appeal to the State Supreme Court within the next 120 days. They also continue to move forward with a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore said he believes Paladino is wasting time with an appeal, but Patty Pierce and Larry Quinn, board members who often sided with Paladino, said they'd gladly welcome him back. Pierce said the session in question took place in October, and the article was published in January.
"The revelation of that material impacted nothing whatsoever upon the negotiation process or the outcome of the contract," Pierce said. "The contract was long signed, sealed, and delivered."
Quinn says the board committed to a billion dollar teachers' contract that wasn't fully vetted.
"He's brought the attention of the community onto this extremely important problem, and he's been a watchdog," Quinn said. "He's been the person that's exposed the terrible practices that've gone on for years, and the ship is slowly starting to turn."
The board will immediately begin looking for a replacement member. Paladino's attorneys say they will decide whether to seek an injunction based on how quickly that process moves.