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Judge Orders School Board Member to Comply with Law

Paul JoyceAlmost four months after the Buffalo School Board Election which took place on May 5, a new court decision may shed more light on the political contributions made to current board member Christopher L. Jacobs.

Four months? Why so long?

Because in that time, despite our efforts in court, Jacobs has still not filed complete campaign finance disclosure forms. We feel we’re just pursuing accurate information, and that takes time, not to mention expert legal representation from Peter A. Reese.

Jacobs’s attorney, Paul G. Joyce (pictured), disputes our motives. He claimed in an affidavit to the court that we were capriciously and frivolously trying “to harass and maliciously injure Mr. Jacobs.”

The Hon. Frederick J. Marshall did not agree. Here’s the transcript of Tuesday’s proceedings, including his ruling from the bench.

On July 17, two months after the filing deadline, and without notice to the litigants pursuing the records (us), or to the courts, Jacobs filed a somewhat more complete campaign finance disclosure form with the Buffalo Board of Education. That filing omits addresses and full names of contributors. Nonetheless, Joyce used that belated, incomplete, and unannounced filing as a rationale for calling our litigation frivolous and capricious. Here’s the affidavit. At the end of that document, you’ll find Jacobs’s July 17 disclosure. Click here to read Reese’s responding affirmation.

Let the guessing games begin. Assign last names to first names in the document, or vice versa, and win fabulous prizes from Artvoice for accuracy, and/or originality. Judging will take place if and when Jacobs meets the judge’s order to comply with the law within 20 days.

Despite Joyce’s claim, this all began because we were interested not so much in Jacobs, but in an undocumented and seemingly illegal entity created by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership called Buffalo Students First. The group spent more than $30,000 to back the incumbent at-large candidates in May’s school board election.

According to Jacobs’s July 17 filing, his campaign spent almost $54,000 on top of whatever backing he received from the Partnership.


Williams Evaluation a Conflict of Interest?

dyouville She may have lost her seat on the school board in the May 5 election, but that is not stopping outgoing board member Catherine Collins from fulfilling her duty as Chairperson of the Executive Affairs Committee.

Tomorrow, May 20, the committee will meet in room 801 in city hall, at 4pm. Among the topics addressed will be the evaluation of Superintendent James Williams. These evaluations can lead to contract extensions and raises for the superintendent. (Click here for a copy of the Williams’s contract signed by board member Florence Johnson on May 23, 2007.)

Yesterday was the deadline for school board members to submit their evaluations of Williams to Sister Denise Roche, President of D’Youville College.

Roche is scheduled to give a summary presentation to the Executive Affairs Committee tomorrow at 6pm.

On Friday, May 15, I called Sister Roche to ask about her involvement with the superintendent’s evaluation—something she has participated in before. I left a message to that effect with her secretary. I called again yesterday, and was told she was out of town.

I left a message saying I was seeking comment from her about whether she felt it was appropriate for a nun, the president of a college, to be involved in the evaluation of the superintendent of a school system that pays that college somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million per year to house one of its schools, in this case, the DaVinci Academy. According to school district documents, the current annual cost to the district is $1.1 million, or $790,000, excluding capital improvements. The lease with D’Youville expires in August 2013, and was signed by Roche.

Repeated attempts to contact Roche have been unsuccessful. Today I left a message indicating that I was trying to get Roche’s response to a letter delivered to her yesterday by school board member Catherine Nugent Panepinto—a formal request that Roche recuse herself from further involvement in the superintendent’s evaluation.

“I greatly appreciate your willingness to coordinate the evaluation and greatly respect your commitment to education in Buffalo. However, your status as a signatory to a contract with the Board of Education raises a conflict of interest with your role as evaluation coordinator,” Nugent Panepinto writes, “Interests such as your interest in the contract between D’Youville College and the Board of Education are generally addressed in New York State General Municipal Law § 800, wherein conflicts of interest are defined.”

Nugent Panepinto took heat from some board members at last night’s meeting, for sending the letter to Roche.

It seems clear that Roche will not respond to the  inquiries of a  journalist, but maybe she will respond to the request of a school board member.

Then again, maybe she won’t.


McIntyre Falls Short

Bryon McIntyre

Bryon McIntyre

Buffalo fireman Bryon McIntyre lost his tenuous lead in the three-way race for the third and final at-large seat on the Buffalo school board today, when absentee ballots were tallied. Incumbent Florence Johnson won the seat; McIntyre fell behind both Johnson and incumbent Catherine Collins.

So it’s John Licata, Chris Jacobs, and Florence Johnson in the at-large seats.

McIntyre stopped by the Artvoice offices after the voted were counted. You can watch Buck Quigley’s interview with him on AVTV in the morning.

Over at the Buffalo News, Peter Simon keeps insisting that the election was a referendum on Superintendent James Williams. I guess there’s an argument to be made there, though I think that’s simplistic.

This, though is puzzling. Simon writes:

The chances of Buffalo Schools Superintendent James A. Williams retaining majority support on the Buffalo Board of Education brightened today when incumbent Florence D. Johnson captured the board’s third at-large seat…

With Johnson, Williams has four supporters on the board. With Licata, he’s got five critics. Are things really so bright for Williams?


General Objections to Buffalo School Board Candidates

ballot-box

I went down to the Erie County board of elections today and bought $1.75 worth of public documents.

Click here and you can have the same information for free. You’ll learn that of the nine candidates running for the three at-large board seats, only the three incumbents—Catherine Collins, Chris Jacobs, and Florence Johnson—have not had objections filed regarding their nominating petitions.

Who filed the objections to the challengers’ paperwork? Herbert Bellamy Jr., Elaine Mootry, and Cassandra Cosby. Bellamy objects to the petitions submitted by Patricia E. Devis and Frank Yellen. Mootry objects to the petitions submitted by Rebekah A Williams and John B. Licata. Cosby objects to the petitions submitted by Rosalind J. Hampton and Bryon McIntyre.

Interestingly, all the paperwork was notarized by Glenn S Aronow, all on the same day: April 13.  Coincidence?

I could only find a phone number for Mootry, and when I called, someone told me she wasn’t home and didn’t know when she would be back. While trying to find contact information for Aronow, I came across his facebook page.

Granted, he’s just the Niagara county notary who witnessed the petitions, but isn’t it interesting that, according to his facebook page, he’s a fan of another facebook page called Chris Jacobs—Supporters for Buffalo Public School Board, and also a fan of the facebook page called Catherine Collins, Chris Jacobs & Florence Johnson for Buffalo School Board.

Petitioners have until Monday, April 20 to list reasons why they are petitioning the paperwork of every single candidate who is not an incumbent. And since these clarifications are valid if they are postmarked by April 20, we won’t know until the middle of next week what, if anything, they were suspicious of regarding the challengers’ petitions. By then, the actual election will be less than two weeks away.

The Buffalo School Board has fiscal oversight to the tune of over $1.5 billion yearly.

We’ll be following up in the coming weeks to let the less than 5% of registered voters who typically turn up for Buffalo school board elections get a feel for the challengers. In the meantime, here’s just one little reminder of the kind of leadership our current at-large school board representatives have given us.

Join us as we take a little walk down memory lane in the coming weeks, revisiting more of the work Collins, Jacobs, and Johnson have done “for the children.”

And remember, with this big a field and so few voters, anything can happen once educated citizens pull the curtain on the voting booth. They might even decide it’s time for a change.


Carl Paladino Commercial

The Buffalo School district may have officially decided to just forget all the problems regarding McKinley High School principal Crystal Barton, the dysfunctional School Board, Superintendent James A. Williams and McKinley basketball coach and accused serial seducer, James Daye, but apparently one Buffalo citizen is not going to let them off the hook that easily. Developer Carl Paladino has purchased radio spots on WBEN chastising all of the above and giving a little instruction of his own. “James A. WIlliams, it’s time for you to go.”

Carl Paladino on the Buffalo School Board (MP3)


School Board has Cake, Eats it too!

The Buffalo school board held a special meeting at 3:30 this afternoon, called by board member Catherine Nugent Panepinto to “vote on pursuing disciplinary action against the individuals named in the report of attorney David Edmunds and/or as discussed by attorney Karl Kristoff.”

After the Pledge of Allegiance, board President Kapsiak began the meeting by moving to enter into executive section, which was immediately seconded by Catherine Collins, who said that she, for one, intended to mention people’s names—therefore making an executive session mandatory. Within five minutes of typical chaos, the press was again sent into the antechamber that has become their second home since issues involving Crystal Barton and McKinley High School have become public knowledge. Nugent Panepinto never even got to read her motion.

After half an hour, the door opened and BPS lawyer Karl Kristoff read a motion to share all the raw data collected by the $25,000 Edmunds report with school board members—something they’ve never had access to thus far—before deciding if any disciplinary action might be warranted.

Here’s how the vote went down: Four in favor (Nugent Panepinto, Hernandez, Petrucci, Jacobs). Perry-Cahill said she would like to “sustain.” Her colleagues corrected her use of terminology and asked if she would like to “abstain.” She said yes, she would like to do that, and she was joined in her abstention by Collins. Kapsiak and Johnson voted against seeing any more evidence.

Vivian Evans, although present in another room, would not take part in the vote.

Thus, with only four votes in favor of examining all the evidence generated by the $25,000 of taxpayer funds that were used to compensate Edmunds, the motion did not receive the five votes it would have needed to pass. Chief of Staff James M. Kane quickly observed: “It doesn’t pass!” He had the tone of a dealer at a poker tournament, interpreting all the hands for the spectators.

Next, it was time for the board to vote on new officers. Vivian Evans entered to take part in this vote.

Again, the room stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Kapsiak retained her position as board president, Collins replaced Hernandez as VP of Executive Affairs, Jacobs replaced Nugent Panepinto as VP of Student Affairs.

In a stunning and unpredictable coincidence, each vote was identical, with Perry-Cahill, Collins, Johnson, Kapsiak, Jacobs, and Evans voting for the winners—while Nugent Panepinto, Petrucci, and Hernandez voted for the losers.

Kapsiak, Collins, and Jacobs were sworn in to their new positions and the meeting was called to a close.

Florence Johnson was the first to move in on the cake. She and Perry-Cahill moved in for a slice after sharing hugs with Collins, Jacobs, and Kapsiak.

And even though it was a big cake, Nugent Panepinto, Petrucci, and Hernandez didn’t have any.


WHO’S TO JUDGE?

ethicsthb.jpgAs the Buffalo school board’s ethics committee is expected to announce its findings on Tuesday, April 15, regarding charges that members of the school board leaked information to the media, it may be reasonable to inquire if certain members should be sitting on the panel in the first place.

The ethics committee is currently debating a slew of charges including those brought by school board members Chris Jacobs (vs. whoever leaked information from an alleged executive session of the school board to the media), Florence Johnson (vs. Catherine Nugent-Panepinto, for talking to the press), and Ralph Hernandez (vs. Superintendent Williams, for mishandling the Discovery School incident).

Both Hon. James A. W. McLeod, chairman of the ethics committee, and Hon. Craig D. Hannah, who joined the nine-member group late, last Tuesday, appear to be presiding there in conflict with New York State standards and administrative policies pertaining to judicial conduct. (This post continues; click to read more…)