Should our trustees be declaring pecuniary interest?

On April 19, Trustees Sheila Taylor and Carol Bazinet both declared pecuniary interest and were thus unable to participate in the preliminary budget approval (also known as resource allocation to schools – early spring staffing). During her past five years as a trustee, Carol Bazinet has never declared a pecuniary interest as it pertains to approval of the operating budget. Sheila Taylor, newly elected in 2010, stated at the April 19 board meeting (you can watch the video on our website) that all trustees received a 13-page legal opinion on April 15 which led her to declare pecuniary interest based on the fact that she is a parent of a CBE student and therefore pays school fees.

Board chairwoman, Pat Cochrane has stated that she doesn’t agree with Trustee Taylor’s interpretation of the document and is quoted in the Herald as saying, “I had a child in the system and I still voted on the budgets. We haven’t told anybody they can’t vote because they have kids.”

So, what are citizens to believe? We have access to the school act, and other documents that lay out the definition of pecuniary interest, but there is nothing in there to explain the actions of Trustees Taylor and Bazinet. Thus, we are left to conclude that they based their decision on this legal document given to trustees on April 15. As this is a “legal” matter, individual trustees are not allowed to offer any further clarification on the matter. However, ARTICS believes that this legal document is of concern to every Calgarian, if not every Albertan, if it precludes our elected trustees from representing us in a matter as crucial as the operating budget. Accordingly, ARTICS posed the following question to the board of trustees at the May 3 public board meeting:

Last board meeting, Trustee Taylor gave notice of motion regarding sending a legal opinion provided to trustees to the Minister of Education and the Alberta School Boards Association. This 13-page document led  two trustees to declare a pecuniary interest in budget discussions. The legal opinion was paid for by public money, for publicly elected trustees, and contained information of  vital interest to every Calgary voter and any parent considering running for trustee. When will the CBE make this legal opinion public and if you won’t release it, please explain why.

The question was answered by Rod Peden, General Counsel to the CBE. The full answer can be viewed on our video of the meeting (at 32:50 minutes into the video), but we will just transcribe the portion of the answer that is relevant to our question here:

The provision of legal guidance is often and typically best offered on a basis that is privileged and confidential. This promotes candour and enables open and constructive wide-ranging internal dialogue and discussion. It would be inappropriate for anyone, other than the board of trustees collectively, to waive the privilege associated with the provision of legal guidance or to discuss publicly the content of such privileged and confidential matters. The fact that a notice of motion was given by an individual trustee does not indicate that any approved action can be undertaken. The Board of Trustees has not authorized the release of any privileged and confidential documents.

Again, the question was, “When will the CBE make this legal opinion public? And if you won’t release it, please explain why.” Mr. Peden made it perfectly clear that the Board of Trustees can authorize the release of this document at any time, yet the Board of Trustees did not answer the question. We will be asking this question again directly to our trustees at the next board meeting. We also invite you to contact your trustee to ask them individually, whether they would support a motion to make this document public, and if not, the reason why. The public deserves to know why they won’t be represented by their elected trustees during this upcoming budget debate.

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