Bureaucratic Procedures are the Price We Pay for Democracy
Last month, Carl Paladino, a NYS Republican party “star” (he ran for Governor against Mario Cuomo and was State chair for the Trump campaign) and current board member of the Buffalo School Board made national news when he wrote in an email posted on Artvoice, a community webpage, that he:
“…hopes Obama catches the lethal mad cow disease after “having relations” with a cow and dies before he is on trial for sedition. As for the first lady, Paladino stated: “I’d like to see her returning to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably with Maxie, the gorilla.”
Afterwards, Mr. Paladino offered an apology of sorts, as reported in Newsday:
“I never intended to hurt the minority community who I spent years trying to help out of the cycle of poverty in our inner cities,” Paladino said in a statement. “To them I apologize.”
He added: “I publicly took responsibility for what I said and confirmed those were my answers, but believe it or not, I did not mean to send those answers to Artvoice. Not that it makes any difference because what I wrote was inappropriate under any circumstance. I filled out the survey to send to a couple friends and forwarded it to them not realizing that I didn’t hit ‘forward’ I hit ‘reply.’ All men make mistakes.”
Nevertheless, Paladino went on to criticize the “rabid hordes of attacking parasites we now call activist progressives.” Last week, he wrote off criticism about the incident to “retarded liberal people.”
All of this public brouhaha left the Buffalo School Board in a pickle. They had a board member who made racist comments and compounded the offense by calling out those who criticized his behavior. Based on a report in Wednesday’s Buffalo News, his Board colleagues are seeking his removal from the Board based on the fact that his
…(recent) comments underscore an ongoing pattern of behavior that they said includes harassment and bullying of his colleagues on the board and members of the administration. That behavior, they said, interferes with the board’s ability to conduct business.
In NYS, a Board cannot vote to remove a member who has been elected by the public. Instead, they need to seek the removal of the member by appealing to the Commissioner of Education who has the authority to make a ruling that is binding unless it is overturned by a State Court. I know this from my experience leading a school district in New York where several board members wanted to remove another board member who they believed had moved from our area. He reportedly refused to resign despite moving from his residence because he was afraid the board might appoint someone with a less fiscally conservative outlook than he had. The attorney who advised us on this issue noted that the NYS procedure that prevented board members from unseating each other was intended to reinforce the power of the ballot box. He viewed the complicated and cumbersome procedural hoops for removing an elected Board member as the price we paid to operate our local schools democratically.
While I would like to see a commissioner have the authority to unilaterally remove an elected board member who uses the kind of inflammatory and racist language used by the likes of Mr. Paladino, it is not too difficult to envision a situation where someone like Mr. Paladino is placed in a position of authority. Should that happen, such a person might decide to use their position to get rid of “…parasites we now call activist progressives” and “…retarded liberal people” even if the electorate placed them office.
If we want to ensure a sound and well functioning democracy, we need to pay attention to everyone who seeks elected office and make certain that we elect individuals who value civility, policies and procedures more than they value power. The ballot box got Mr. Paladino on the Board just as the ballot box elected Republicans in 35 states, elected a Republican House, Republican Senate, and Republican President. If we want to change the way we are governed, we need to use the ballot box to get activist progressives in place in all levels of government.