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Long Story Short: Board of Ed follies, ride sharing speed bumps, and pie


illustration by JP Thimot


What’s up?

No word yet on a ruling from Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia since the June 29 conclusion of a first-of-its-kind, judicial-style hearing at the State Education Department. Buffalo developer Carl Paladino is accused by six of his fellow Buffalo Board of Education members of disclosing confidential information discussed in executive sessions. A July 1 Buffalo News editorial shocked many observers by supporting Paladino.


The details: 

The majority of Board Members are seeking Paladino’s removal because they claim he disclosed confidential information regarding teacher contract negotiations and two cases of litigation, interfering with their ability to do business. Both private and public sector contract negations are routinely carried out in private for both legal and practical reasons. Intentionally releasing contract discussions to the public leads to raised tensions and public confusion, and would likely be sited as evidence of "bad faith" negotiations, resulting in legal action. 


The final witness for both sides in the hearing was Carl Paladino, who took the stand as protesters outside were heard chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Paladino has got to go.” Paladino took the opportunity to attack former Superintendent Pamela Brown, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, and LPCiminelli, all of whom he accused either of being incompetent or conspiratorial. He further testified that Superintendent Kriner Cash couldn’t understand “the nature of our board and the fact he would have to deal with very onerous people who had different agendas." Striking a very Trump-like conspiratorial tone, Paladino argued, "I have every right to expose a rigged contract. I find people with a very deceptive and diabolical agenda have controlled our education system for a long time, and that's why we have such dysfunction."


Paladino claims that the other board members are targeting him because, "They didn't want anybody exposing the underbelly of this beast..." Paladino’s lawyer argued that the board was really retaliating for his New Year wish published in Artvoice, to see Michelle Obama “return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”


Elia will rule on the petition in writing sometime after attorneys submit final legal papers in mid July. Paladino previously filed a federal lawsuit in US District Court seeking damages from fellow board members, claiming they attempted to infringe on his freedom of speech rights. 


The takeaway: 

Paladino’s attorney argued that "Carl's disclosures, whatever they referred to, were made in the public interest," the Buffalo News Editorial Board agrees. If the ruling goes Paladino’s way, it sets precedence that board confidentiality can be broken anytime anyone believes they are doing it for the good of the public. 



What’s up?

Airport ride-sharing fees. A July 6 Buffalo News headline reads, “NFTA fears $2 million in lost airport revenue because of Uber, Lyft”


In related news: Amtrack experiences $50 billion loss in train revenue since its inception because of planes, cars: Horse and buggy owners still fuming over invention of automobile.


The details:

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) executive director Kimberley Minkel says she supports ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft, which the NFTA rushed to accommodate so they could quickly begin service to and from the Buffalo and Niagara Falls airports. But she points to lost taxicab fees, car rental, and parking revenue, and possible increased staffing costs, to justify added fees the NFTA is imposing on ride-sharing at the airports.


The NFTA board initially announced plans to slap on a $3.50 per-ride fee, and charge ride hailing drivers a $5,000 permit fee, in order to offset anticipated revenue losses. The announcement prompted a public backlash, which included members of the Erie County Legislature and Governor Cuomo’s administration that supported bringing ride-hailing services to Buffalo. Subsequently, the per-ride customer fee was reduced to $3, or the service provider could opt pay a one-time fee of $180,000. Uber has chosen the one time fee; Lyft accepted the per-ride charge. Both agreements are limited to a one-year pilot program, after which the situation will be reevaluated. There is no fee for taxis to drop passengers off at airports.


Minkel has been criticized for poor communication with state and regional leaders. NFTA board member Anthony Baynes expressed frustration over inaccurate information the board received, and a lack of transparency in the decision-making process. Minkel claims that her focus has always been on “the people we serve.” She defended the fees at a July 6 meeting of the Erie County Legislature. Minkel and aviation director William Vanecek attended the meeting at the request of Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca. When it ended, Lorigo was still not happy with the fees. He describes NFTA as one of several state authorities “with no accountability and no oversight, and he says they “need to learn to adapt” to change. “There's a number of issues they need to address,” says Lorigo, noting top-heavy NFTA administration in particular, “and adding fees to the already highest operational cost ridesharing state in the country is a problem to me."


The takeaway:

The headline had it backward. It should have read: Airport customers expected to save an additional $2 million because of Uber, Lyft. Majority Leader Lorigo believes adapting to change, as business and government has always adjusted to evolving economic conditions, is at the crux of the issue. The anticipated airport revenue loss is cash the public saves in parking, taxi, and car rental fees due to a ride-sharing innovation that offers the public a better, cheaper alternative to an existing service. With these fees, the NFTA takes this savings back.



Question: How big is it?

 Answer: No Bigger Than a Pie Box. That happens to be the title of a unique silent art auction fundraiser—the first of a series of charitable events planned by four like-minded philanthropic women who go by the name ArtReach. The featured artwork—produced by local artists—will all be small enough to fit into a pie box. That’s nine inches square, in case you were wondering, so they are just right for people with limited budgets and wall space. Auction winners will take their art home encased in commemorative pie boxes.


The details: 

It’s no secret that many service organizations that count on government funding are mighty threatened amid today’s unpredictable political climate, which favors guns and coal over people in need. So four friends with ties to Buffalo’s art community formed ArtReach as a way of showing local agencies some love. Karen Eckert is part owner of the online art market Collect Art, Maria Pabico LaRotonda owns the Revolution Gallery, and Beth Smith and Emily Tucker are board members at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center. Tucker also owns Benjaman Gallery and is a Buffalo Spree Ambassador.


“There are so many services that exist to make our lives better and we wanted to not only draw attention to those groups but help finance any potential cuts to their programs,” explains Eckert. And naturally, with the four woman’s shared experiences selling and promoting art in Buffalo, they looked for events that benefit artists while they support local aid organizations.  


No Bigger Than a Pie Box will include appetizers and adult refreshments from Lunchbox, and the event will be emceed by local comedian Allie Brady. Participating artists include Bruce Adams, A. J. Fries, Amy Greenan, Anne Muntges, Peter Stephens, and others. The twenty participating artists will receive fifty percent of the sale price, with the remaining fifty percent going to charities selected by ArtReach: the Pride Center of WNY, YWCA Western New York, Inc., and Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York Action Fund. The event takes place this Thursday, July 13, 5:30–7:30 p.m., in the atrium of 500 Seneca Street. Tickets are available here.


The group’s goal is to host two fundraisers a year to raise funds and awareness for vital community service organizations, while supporting Buffalo’s art community. ArtReach was also instrumental in creating a mural at Cradle Beach Camp, sponsored by New Era and designed and painted by Matthew Grote (Ogre).


The takeaway: 

Buffalo has no shortage of art events. This one figuratively and literally supports some vital local support organizations, while compensating artists for their time and work. It looks to be a groovy blend of interesting folks, tasty food and drink, a great location, and cool art, at an affordable price.


Artist, activist, and educator Bruce Adams writes regularly for Spree on education, the arts, and other topics.


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