Monday, June 22, 2009

In conflict?

I rarely blog about my own articles, but here's an exception to the rule.
This issue was brought to my attention by a local school board trustee and its implications are huge. If you wish to read the original ruling on Baillargeon v. Carroll, the link is there.
Essentially, the judge ruled that any trustee whose family works for the board they sit on should remove themselves entirely from budget discussions as there is a pecuniary interest. The trustees' associations jumped on this ruling right away and issued a number of releases to their members clarifying the provincial conflict of interest legislation.
The opinions are divergent however.
Oxford trustee Cliff Roach is impacted by the ruling, given his daughter and son-in-law are both teachers in the Catholic board. He said he's always declared his conflict or interest when staffing or salary and benefit issues are being discussed and voted upon.
"The courts have made it clear it's better to be safe than sorry later on," Roach said. "But I don't have a conflict, outside of (staffing issues)."
At the other end of London, when the Thames Valley District School Board considers its budget for the final time Tuesday, Oxford trustee James Stewart will be chairing the meeting and his peer Graham Hart has similarly declared a conflict. Stewart doesn't expect all three trustees (Peter Jaffe, Terry Roberts, and Hart) whose family members work for the board will remove themselves from voting on the final budget.
Hart said he would, just to be on the safe side, as his daughter is a teacher in the board.
"I will sit in the audience tonight (Tuesday) and next Tuesday, I will declare a conflict and not vote on the budget," Hart said, explaining he has been working behind the scenes to ensure the cuts that could impact Oxford's students are receiving the same attention as others.
Interestingly, TVDSB London trustee Terry Roberts did not declare a conflict on June 16. Peter Jaffe was absent. Hart sat in the audience as promised.
Tonight, one of the Catholic trustees was absent, the other three declared their conflicts during the appropriate time on the agenda. I'll update later to see if they also abstained from voting.
UPDATE: The Catholic trustees in conflict did not vote. At the public board, Hart and Jaffe declared a conflict and didn't vote. Roberts actually moved the adoption of the minutes, without declaring any conflict.
The impact of this decision is even bigger for some boards, where I'm sure the majority of trustees have family working in the very system they help govern.
It's also a pertinent case for municipal councils, but I'll blog about that elsewhere.


Anonymous said...

It is almost impossible for trustees not to have some conflict of one sort. I don't know anyone who doesn't have a teacher in the family somewhere, if not in their immediate family, then certainly in their extended family. How far does the conflict have to reach?

Also, many trustees are retired teachers or past union members--that is a huge conflict of interest as well.

Pretty soon boards will be irrelevant anyway, if they aren't already. The staff runs the show and trustees are like those bobble head dolls, shaking their heads yes to what the staff "advises" them to do.

Anonymous said...

I bet more of these "conflicts" go on that just never come to light.