Thursday, November 26, 2009

The board, the OMB, the town and... the lawsuit?

Oh, the things people consider when they're desperate.
Tiffany Mayer at the Standard had this posted late Wednesday (the link may change Thursday morning and I won't be able to update it until Friday) regarding some of the options being discussed behind closed doors by Niagara-on-the-Lake council in its last-ditch, grasping at straws effort to save Niagara District Secondary School from pending and certain closure.
The tactic was revealed during a Niagara-on-the-Lake town council meeting this week when Coun. Martin Mazza, who sits on the NDSS strategy committee, asked how quickly plans to save the school could go forward.
Mazza referred to a "Plan B" and the possibility of a lawsuit before being reminded he was revealing information discussed behind closed doors.
When asked Wednesday about the probability of a lawsuit, Mazza was mum.
"I've been told to keep my mouth shut and refer everything to the Lord Mayor," he said.
Mazza's mention of a brewing lawsuit came a day before board trustee Gary Atamanyk said the board broke the law by not following proper procedure when it voted last year to close NDSS.
Ooops. Gee, when you sit on a committee that meets (likely illegally, at least for portions) in-camera and then you blab about it in open council, doesn't that negate the justification for holding the meetings in secret to begin with? Council didn't want the board to learn of its scheming, but it appointed someone with some pretty loose lips.
I don't know if the language in the last graph I quoted there is Mayer's or Atamanyk's (I suspect the latter), but it's a little overstated. Boards and other governance bodies have bylaws for procedure and process during meetings-- these are generally based as most people would be aware on Roberts Rules of Order, with any particular tweaks as designed and passed by the board as a whole. These laws apply only to the council / board and its members-- "broke the law" implies criminal intent, versus failing to follow procedure.
Second, I again question the motive here-- the motion which Atamanyk and possibly NOTL council believe was out-of-order was read in June 2008. If NDSS had met the enrolment target set that night, not one person would give a flying patootie about the legitimacy of the motion as presented. It's only now, almost a full 18 months after the offensive motion was read, accepted and voted on that this is being contemplated? How convenient, and how desperate. Even if the basis of the concern was the inconsistency between how the June 2008 motion and the series of motions put forth earlier this year (pre-Oct. 31 deadline) were dealt with by the chair, it's been over a month and the board has had several meetings during which this could and should have been considered in proper process.
I ask myself at the end of the day-- if the June 2008 motion had (or will) be ruled out of order that night (or at any other time), what's to say the result would have been any different? I re-read the minutes from that night's meeting. The good stuff starts on P6 and runs to P21. Is there space, read by the right lawyer, to argue whether the right call was made that night when the motion that was passed was ruled in order by the chair? Possibly.
Trustees were trying to come up with some creative solutions. A straight "close the school" vote was defeated 6-5, and all the others except this last one under contention were also defeated. But along the way, trustees created a procedural nightmare in a rat's nest of motions.
However, the minutes from the subsequent meeting show no concerns or questions over the rat's nest from trustees when they discussed business arising from the minutes. Nada.
Say the chair had ruled the motion in question out of order-- what would have happened then? Three motions to keep the school open and spend varying degrees of money and set different enrolment targets had been defeated. The motion to close the school, period, had been defeated. The only plain-spoken motion left was to vote to keep the school open, period-- but there's nothing to suggest that would have passed. Any other convoluted motion only would have added to the rat's nest and likely have led to the same result as where the community sits today: unable to meet an enrolment target and facing closure.
Finally, I just love the headaches this should be creating for someone over at the Community Schools Alliance. What credibility is that group ever going to have now when two members of its executive are burning every bridge to the school board because the town didn't get its way? Wasn't the alliance's goal about getting the ministry to force school boards to be more considerate of municipalities? Isn't that a two-way street?
You can't ask for consideration out of one corner of your mouth while you're giving instructions on what parts of the bridges to douse with gasoline and where to find the matches with the other side of your mouth.


Anonymous said...

Nice mess to be sure and I really don't think that the outcome would have changed had the out-of-order call be made in the earl goings.

In my capacity as a member of a municipal board I was told yesterday that Huron County Council had voted
unanimously to not just support the Community Schools Alliance but apparently they're asking for a complete nixing of the ARC process. Have been looking for local media hits on this but haven't found anything yet...but I will.

It was mentioned to me by someone who was their that one of the real concerns of council was that they seem to think that the rules of the ARC process seems to change at the whim of those running the show and arbitrarily. They see holes in the process in that regard as being unfair.

Huron County Council is made up of the nine smaller places which make up Huron County.

I've got some calls in....will be back with more as I hopefully get clarification.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of the ARC process and municipal involvement...ER, what are your thoughts on the 'smart moratorium' proposed by the City of London itself? Can you comment on its status at the TVDSB? (Perhaps I've missed a post on this.)

Education Reporter said...

Anon: 27 Nov. 09:47
I am aware of the City of London's letter to the TVDSB, which has gone before its partnerships committee. The partnerships committee itself has a draft of a municipal partnership policy before it for consideration.

I've not yet seen the letter from the City-- there was an earlier one, however it didn't contain much in terms of detail.

However-- the City of London balked in the first round of reviews at the board. When asked for municipal reps to sit on the committee, council basically said, 'we don't want to help you close any schools, so we're not sending anyone to sit on your committee.' As a result, some opportunities for partnership never materialized because no one from the city was at the table.

If anyone out there has a PDF copy of the letter and wishes to forward it to me, I wouldn't tell a soul where I got it from.