Paladino uses lawyer to intimidate principal, then rants when called out

Buffalo school board member Carl Paladino receives frequent complaints about various schools from parents and other community stakeholders.  He says he does his best to investigate and respond to each complaint. But one recent instance of Paladino’s investigation seems to cross the line.

Board member Dr. Barbara Seals-Nevergold has called the recent incident “an intimidation tactic” that is inappropriate.  She worries that Paladino’s behavior exposes the Board to serious legal liabilities.

The incident transpired late this past week via a string of emails that then became public.

It began with one of Paladino’s attorneys questioning an elementary school principal about a parent’s complaint. The parents said she was no longer welcome at the school after she shared information with other parents encouraging them to opt out of standardized testing, as is allowable under state law. The accusation was that the principal was setting policies for the school unilaterally.

On Wednesday, Leanna Pilarski, an attorney with Paladino’s law firm, Paladino, Cavan, Quinlivan & Pierce, writes to Tonja Williams, the principal of Marva J. Daniel Futures Preparatory School #37. She uses an Ellicott Development email address with a signature block that includes her title, Attorney at Law:

From: Leanna Pilarski [lpilarski@ellicottdevelopment.com]
Sent: Wednesday, October 15, 2014 12:20 PM
To: Williams, Tonja
Subject: Mary Bishop

Good afternoon,

Mr Paladino received a letter from Mary Bishop detailing several incidents stemming from her distributing information  about students opting out of state testing and ultimately resulting in her being asked not to come on school property without permission.

Can you please provide us with your side of the story?
Were her children transferred to another school for this school year?

I am currently working from home so if possible email would be best.

Thank you

Leanna Pilarski

Attorney At Law

Paladino, Cavan, Quinlivan & Pierce

295 Main Street, Suite 210

Buffalo, New York 14203

Phone: (716) 852-8222

Fax: (716) 852-2829

LPilarski@ellicottdevelopment.com

The principal did what one would expect if approached by a lawyer — who is not employed by the school district — and was requesting non-public information about a specific parent and student situation at the school. She referred the attorney to the district’s General Counsel, congruent with the district’s policy:

Good Afternoon Ms. Pilarski,

I have been informed that the protocol for employees of the Buffalo City School District (BCSD) releasing requested information to attorneys, is to have all such request filter through the head of our legal counsel department, Mrs. Rashondra Martin.  Her email address is: Rmartin@buffaloschools.org. I have copied her on this email.  Thanks.

Dr. Tonja M. Williams, Principal

Marva J. Daniel Futures Preparatory School #37

295 Carlton Street

Buffalo, New York 14204

(716)816-3800 Phone * (716) 816-3796 Fax

Then Pilarski replies the next morning:

From: Leanna Pilarski [lpilarski@ellicottdevelopment.com]
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2014 8:54 AM
To: Williams, Tonja
Cc: Martin, Rashondra
Subject: Re: Mary Bishop

I’m sorry I am an attorney but I am not acting as an attorney here. I work for Carl and I help him with some school board things such as returning phone calls from parents, etc. which is what I was doing here. He asked me to get the other side of this story just so he knew how to respond to this parent.

Sent from my iPhone

Rashondra Martin, the district’s General Counsel then chimes in the next morning:

From: Martin, Rashondra
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2014 9:56 AM
To: Leanna Pilarski; Williams, Tonja
Cc: Ogilvie, Donald
Subject: RE: Mary Bishop

Dear Ms. Pilarski:

Please be advised that Dr. Williams provided letters to the mom regarding this matter and is not required to provide any additional information.

Regards,

Rashondra M. Martin

General Counsel

Buffalo Public Schools

717 City Hall

Buffalo, New York 14202

(716) 816-3742 phone

(716) 851-3030 fax

Pilarksi forwards this response to Paladino, who then emails the General Counsel himself, and goes ahead and CC’ed the five member majority that now controls the board:

From: Carl Paladino
Sent: ‎10/‎16/‎2014 2:06 PM
To: Leanna Pilarski; Martin, Rashondra
Cc: Jim Sampson; Larry Quinn (lawrence.quinn52@gmail.com);dao4115@gmail.com; ppierce10@roadrunner.com; Jay Mccarthy (jason.mccarthy@gmail.com)
Subject: RE: Mary Bishop

Rashondra, I would assume you have some unusual  legal basis for your response.  The State allowed opt out.  What did Mary Bishop do wrong?  Does Tanya Williams set her own policies?

Ms. Martin then responds to Paladino’s remark, and includes the rest of the board members and Superintendant Donald Ogilvie on the string of emails:

From: Martin, Rashondra
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2014 2:56 PM
To: Carl Paladino; Leanna Pilarski
Cc: Jim Sampson; Larry Quinn (lawrence.quinn52@gmail.com);dao4115@gmail.com; ppierce10@roadrunner.com; Jay Mccarthy (jason.mccarthy@gmail.com); Board Members; Ogilvie, Donald
Subject: RE: Mary Bishop

Mr Paladino:

My response was in regarding to providing her side of the story and the letter directing Ms. Bishop to make an appointment before arriving at the school not the merits of the letter.

Sent from my Windows Phone

When the former board president, Dr. Nevergold, was finally copied on the string of emails, she responded with very serious concerns, even expressing “astonishment and alarm.”

From: Nevergold, Barbara A [mailto:BANevergold@buffaloschools.org]
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2014 10:21 PM
To: Martin, Rashondra; Carl Paladino; Leanna Pilarski
Cc: Jim Sampson; Larry Quinn (lawrence.quinn52@gmail.com);dao4115@gmail.com; ppierce10@roadrunner.com; Jay Mccarthy (jason.mccarthy@gmail.com); Board Members; Ogilvie, Donald; Cabinet; Williams, Tonja
Subject: RE: Mary Bishop
Importance: High

Mr. Sampson and Mr. Ogilvie, I have read the attached string of emails with astonishment and alarm.  Since when does a Board member have an employee do his board work, especially contacting parents on his behalf.  But of even greater concern is to have that employee, an attorney who claims not to be acting in that capacity but utilizes her title in her email, contact one of our principals to demand that she respond to her questions.

As a Board we may all be held liable for what appears to be an intimidation tactic to me.  I will not stay silent and allow this behavior to take place without notice from other Board members.  This is wrong and should not be condoned by silence or tacit consent.  If Mr. Paladino has a question, he should ask it as a Board member, through the proper channels.  But he should not have his employee, an attorney, acting on his behalf.

Mr. Sampson, as Board president, I ask you to address this issue.  Barbara Nevergold

Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, PhD

At-Large Member, Buffalo Board of Education

801 City Hall

Buffalo, New York 14202

716-225-8074

Then Paladino, seemingly offended that a woman would question his behavior and tactics, releases a wild email rant — in the style for which he has become known:

From: Carl Paladino [CPaladino@ellicottdevelopment.com]
Sent: Friday, October 17, 2014 12:30 PM
To: Nevergold, Barbara A; Martin, Rashondra; Leanna Pilarski
Cc: Jim Sampson; Larry Quinn (lawrence.quinn52@gmail.com);dao4115@gmail.com; ppierce10@roadrunner.com; Jay Mccarthy (jason.mccarthy@gmail.com); Board Members; Ogilvie, Donald; Cabinet; Williams, Tonja; tlankes@buffnews.com
Subject: RE: Mary Bishop

Ms. Nevergold, you never cease to amaze me.

You have in the past looked the other way when your sisters Ms Cottman and Cassandra Wright acted as the sisterhood muscle to intimidate those teachers at Bennett who dared to speak up at a Board meeting to denounce the incompetent Principal.

Now you complain and blindly defend when one of your sisters is asked why she ignored State Law giving parents the right to opt out of testing and why she imposed sanctions on a parent. In the recent past, the Administration had been impossible to approach, incompetent, dysfunctional and not transparent. As a result,  many parents, administrators and others contact Board members with their problems. We get a huge amount of complaints and I try to answer every one of them.  My assistants always carry themselves professionally.   In this case, I was approached by a parent regarding an incompetent principal, who achieved tenure only by way of chicanery, administered the lowest rated priority school in the district.  She is so unskilled that it has been necessary to pay a full time assistant to follow her around and tell her what to do. She had specifically instructed teachers not to take attendance.  Violence is rampant because there is very little discipline.  She is obviously part of the sisterhood friends and family club.  She was given a fraudulent, exaggerated and incomplete APPR and recommendation for tenure by a Chief of School Leadership who has in the past lied, schemed and acted as the muscle for the past majority/present minority. Intending to respond, I was in the process of getting both sides of the story necessary to do so.

You should find something else to do with your time.  Any Board member who would take money and support from the union, the chief adversary of the Board, and not see it as a conflict is seriously lacking in good judgment.  Your actions opposing matters involving charter schools clearly indicate that you are a pawn of Phil Rumore.  If you really wanted to help the kids you would get Rumore to give up the management prerogative that paralyses the Administration’s ability to function.  You refused to appoint me to the Joint Schools Construction Board when I was the only person on the Board of Ed who had any experience in Construction and now we find that the real reason for not appointing me was that you and Florence Johnson violated the public trust as fiduciaries and were complicit with others to deny transparency on the lack of any reasonable due diligence before certifying payments to the Program Manager during the entire term of the 12-year $1.4 billion contract.  Although the lack of such reasonable due diligence and oversight demands a complete and through independent audit that any knowing and responsible fiduciary would recognize, you chose to lead the minority of the Board to vote against the audit.  Your motivations are highly suspect.  Last year when the Board was considering the discharge of Pamela Brown, you , as President of the Board, conspired to pack the Board meeting with your friends and family club and allow a number of your trained activist friends to spew venom and racist remarks at me during the public speaking portion of the meeting.

I recognize that it is difficult to become irrelevant but the system failed dramatically under the watch of you and your former majority cohorts’.  You are blind to your incompetence and the dysfunction that your racist and union oriented  attitudes brought to the Buffalo Public Schools.  You are obviously more interested in enjoying the power of the office than doing anything positive for the kids.  You should resign.

Someone has to ask the obvious question: does Paladino have the temperament and interpersonal skills to be productive on the school board? Have his apparent anger management issues made him ineffective? Those will be a questions that this publication examines in a forthcoming series of articles that look at the nature of public leadership, organizational behavior, and board governance.

cp

 

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4 comments

  1. Anyone who learns of the corruption of the Buffalo School Board would find it difficult to maintain their temper. This board has demonstrated to the public you intent to continue business as usual. Take note that Union corruption has been a persistent problem not only in the Teachers Association but more dangerous in the construction business throughout Erie & Niagara Counties. It is apparent to any who keep informed that our school systems have morphed into a series of private fiefdoms with more attention to the comfort of the employees than improving the academic achievements of the students. Your persistent demands for more money to schools ” Its for the Children ” is as transparent as the organized efforts committed to waste that same money on building empires within the school system.If it were not for people like Mr. Palidino, whom I might add had many challenges in his effort to join the school board, has done an exceptional job challenging the board to correct errors & mistakes

    Like

    • So Larry, how long have you worked for Carl Paladino—directly or indirectly? Or is it a member of your family that is on his payroll?

      Like

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