Pearson starting “complete overhaul” of ethics code

By Robert Frank The Suburban. Stein Day ethic decision cost LBPSB more than $80,000, undermined public confidence, highlighting need for transparency, stronger sanctions.

The Suburban

Lester B. Pearson School Board’s committee charged with revising its code of ethics will begin its deliberations, Dec. 20.

The beleaguered school board confirmed the date at its executive committee meeting, Dec. 12—the day after it’s last 2016 public council meeting—a tumultuous year for LBPSB.

Last month, Parent Commissioner Frank Clarke told reporters that LBPSB plans to “completely overhaul our code of ethics” in the wake of a scandal that has undermined public confidence in the school board.

LBPSB chair Suanne Stein Day subsequently admitted that she is the “commissioner” found to have violated three provisions of the school board’s own code of ethics as well as Section 177.1 of the Education Act. Speaking to reporters afterward, she downplayed her conduct and suggested that the people who had called for more transparency—including several school board union leaders—as well as others demanding her resignation, all had ulterior motives. Both Stein Day and Clarke have repeatedly disparaged news coverage of LBPSB.

“I may have lost my temper,” Stein Day told reporters who asked her to specify what conduct had prompted the lengthy ethics hearings against her, which ultimately cost LBPSB more than $80,000.

The strapped school board’s expenditure has stirred resentment, as has the appearance of impunity for senior officials and has hamstrung LBPSB’s ability to act effectively on core challenges that it faces, including plummeting enrolment, excessive class size and empty infrastructure.

Following the meeting, Commissioner Domenic Pavone, recounted to The Suburban his frustration that the Marguerite Bourgeoys school board is spending millions to construct a brand new school in LaSalle within walking distance of a long-vacant LBPSB school. LBPSB assistant director general Carol Heffernan said that the school board has repeatedly attempted unsuccessfully to convince LaSalle to rezone the property to make it easier to sell.

Pavone also underscored that LBPSB had no choice but to pay Stein Day’s lawyers’ hefty fees to defend her unsuccessfully against the ethics and legal rules she was found to have violated. The law requires public bodies to pay the legal bills for all elected officials who face charges.

Two weeks ago, Clarke suggested that he is hobbled by the current ethics process, which is ring-fenced by secrecy and contains limited provision for sanctions against officials who breach LBPSB’s ethical guidelines and Education Act provisions. He told a tense central parents committee meeting that he was “working with the system as it is in place right now with the influences and the powers that are enabled.”

Stein Day’s opponent Chris Eustace deplored her efforts to stifle public participation by himself and others. Last month, she lifted a three-year ban against Eustace speaking at public meetings and, on April 28, 2014, called for Montreal Police to throw him out of LBPSB headquarters during a public council meeting, as well as a parent Cindy Mac Donald, after she subsequently approached the microphone during the public question period to challenge Stein Day’s decision to eject him summarily.

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