How confidential is information spammed out to thousands of people?
Not very. Which is why the decision by the Buffalo school district to censor many of board member Carl Paladino's resolutions Wednesday night is simply ridiculous.
At Wednesday night's meeting, half of Paladino's 10 board issues were redacted with black marker. Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold said this was done because Paladino was referring to matters in litigation or were personnel issues that could only be reviewed and discussed in closed session.
We are quite disappointed in whoever wrongly advised the board president on this matter.
Like it or not, Paladino's school board agenda items are designed to stir public opinion. That's why he emails his agenda to thousands of people (28,000, plus another 25,000 through Facebook) after he clocks them in with the school district. Given this fact, "how could it be that the school district would have the ability to withhold that information at all?" said Robert Freeman, executive director of New York State's Committee on Open Government.
Furthermore, Freeman said of Paladino, "When he is speaking or disclosing on his own, and not on behalf of the board, he has the ability to disclose and to speak on matters of public concern."
Finally, Freeman notes that while the Open Meetings Law states board members may discuss certain exempt matters behind closed doors in executive session, they are not REQUIRED to do so. Likewise, with the exception of identifying students, he said, any board member who wishes to disclose what was discussed in a closed session could not be successfully prosecuted under the law regardless of what a district's own policy may state.
"If that were a violation of law, you’d see a lot of city council members, town board members and school board members in jail," he said, "but you don’t -- at least not for that."
The question of whether Paladino should release such information is another question entirely. District administrators and board members may consider it inappropriate, imprudent and disrespectful to the privacy concerns of employees to publicly discuss the matter. It may even go against a district's own self interests and liability protection and to disclose certain information. But as Freeman stated, "It may not be nice, it may not be good, it may not be wise" but it is perfectly legal.
We hope this puts an end to the district's new and unfortunate "black-out" practice. If not, we will continue to write about the matter in print and online, and to post the unredacted version of Paladino's resolutions as we did Wednesday night.
Here is the redacted version of Paladino's items, which were posted to the school district's website as part of the full agenda packet.
-- Sandra Tan