The Toronto Sun has been consistent in its coverage and commentary on this issue, the latest of which was tossed my way by a frequent if anonymous tipster as Moira Macdonald has her say in Monday's Sun. From her piece:
Citizen activist Mike Baillargeon -- victor last February in a similar complaint against former board chair Oliver Carroll -- had long hinted he was working on an action against (Barbara) Poplawski and (Angela) Kennedy, dating back to a May 14, 2008 meeting where Carroll also got caught. Baillargeon said he only learned of the conflict of interest incidents involving Poplawski and Kennedy during the proceeding against Carroll.Agreed. This sounds a tad too coincidental and only serves to bulk up what Macdonald is insinuating. Of course, if you consider the Sun also published a piece earlier this year from Baillargeon himself, filled with exclamatory statements and frequent use of the word "resign," is there much work left to show he appears obsessed with ousting all remaining trustees from a board that has essentially been neutered until after the 2010 vote? Macdonald has been a supporter of the cause, given its implications for overall governance, however I question at what point in Baillargeon's quest we move from righteous to simply obsessed.
Even Kennedy told me she and Poplawski had "heard rumblings" Baillargeon might do something with it.
But Ontario's Municipal Conflict of Interest Act gives people just six weeks to file notice of a conflict of interest once they learn about a case of it. Baillargeon went into overtime -- according to him, because he had been (unsuccessfully) trying to get the two trustees to resign instead of going to court -- and lost the ability to move on the matter himself.
The current application names parent Arnaldo Amaral as the complainant. Amaral's lawyer, Stephen D'Agostino, says his client is reluctant to speak to reporters -- too bad, because this is a situation that needs as much transparency as it can get. Court documents say Amaral learned of the conflict allegations in late September from his local trustee, Catherine LeBlanc-Miller.
That said, I was one of the few reporters outside the GTA bubble to report on the Baillargeon v. Carroll case's ruling (I did so in June, as budgets were being finalized). The ruling extends the consideration of conflict, noting that pecuniary interest extends to family members regardless of a trustee's individual ability to impact on their relative's financial outcome. I also posted about it here, in a rare item on my own reporting.
I suspect based on my own observations at the time budgets were passed earlier this year that despite various legal opinions obtained by trustee associations and board solicitors on the ruling, most trustees with family employed by the board they serve on voted for budgets anyway. Locally, there were no staffing cuts to employee groups where trustee family members worked, therefor per a strict comparison to the Carroll case, it could be harder to draw a conclusion of conflict under the act.
As the ruling notes, Carroll very obviously and overtly went about influencing the vote to avoid staffing cuts that could have reasonably impacted his family members. Both of the family members in question were very low on seniority lists and could have reasonably seen their positions axed or get bumped out of any other job by a member with more seniority.
As Thames Valley District School Board chair James Stewart noted in my June article, the reality is the vast majority of trustees have zero direct influence over staffing since they're not involved on most hiring committees and the payroll budget is largely dictated by the Ministry of Education through the Grants for Student Needs and other legislation.
The nature of these two new allegations is similar to the Carroll one, that these two trustees influenced the vote to protect jobs at the TCDSB as part of the 2008-09 budget votes. Both have relatives employed by the board, although there's no indication in coverage to-date whether any or all would have been as threatened by cuts as Carroll's relatives.
The two new cases should serve as a warning to those trustees in similar situations they're subject to the same accusations.