Calgary

'Deeply flawed, undemocratic': CBE trustees at odds over board procedures, governance

There is a divide between trustees at the Calgary Board of Education. It's roots are deep-seated, and, according to trustee Lisa Davis, go back to when trustees were elected in 2017.

Lisa Davis says she's proposed 8 motions in 18 months that have not been debated

Calgary Board of Education headquarters at 1221 8th Street S.W. (Bryan Labby/CBC )

There is a divide between trustees at the Calgary Board of Education.

Its roots are deep-seated, and, according to trustee Lisa Davis, go back to when trustees were elected in 2017.

"Since our election 26 months ago, I have been raising concerns about our board procedures as I believe the process for bringing forward motions for public debate is deeply flawed, undemocratic and not how CBE students, parents and staff would believe we should operate," she said at the Jan.14 public board meeting, and reiterated in a Facebook that evening.

At that meeting, trustees debated amendments to board meeting procedures, or as trustee Julie Hrdlicka said, a "policy [that] outlines again how we live out our professionalism and respect for each other and the public in our meetings."

During the debate, Davis told her fellow trustees that she believed that, as publicly elected officials, they're meant to be making policy in public, and not behind closed doors.

Calgary Board of Education trustees at the public board meeting on Jan. 14, 2020. (Screenshot/Youtube)

"Proposing and debating motions is fundamental to the democratic process. The discussion is often more telling than the final decision," she said. 

"There is a belief that, now that we are elected, we have a fiduciary duty only to the CBE, and not to the people who elected us. I do not agree."

Davis said from that belief should flow the interpretation of many of the board's policies.

"I believe the trustees have the right to free speech under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly when that right is used responsibly and in good faith, subject only to the reasonable confidentiality provisions of private financial or legal discussions."

But, she said, it's her experience that this view is not reflected in the policies and procedures.

"As a democratically elected trustee, it's been a shock to find out that, practically speaking, I cannot bring forward a motion for debate outside of our regularly scheduled reports, which are scheduled months in advance," she said. 

"It is currently very difficult for a trustee to bring forward a motion that is not related to reports that are planned. I do not believe that our actual processes for determining this are transparent and accountable nor are they in compliance with our own rules and the intent of the regulations and legislation we must abide by."

Lisa Davis, CBE trustee for Wards 6 and 7. (CBE)

But trustees took issue with Davis's statements. 

"I am definitely in favour of all trustees having free speech. That is what democracy is about and we're all here for," said trustee Trina Hurdman. 

"Unfortunately, in the debate we just heard, there wasn't anything about our actual policies and procedures. It was all around our governance culture policies and around our basic legal responsibilities as a board of trustees and the Calgary Board of Education."

Hurdman said if anyone had any problems with the board meeting procedures that were before the board, they should make a motion to amend the procedures.

"Otherwise, they should vote in favour of the procedures," she said.

Board chair Marilyn Dennis said the new board procedures committee has been meeting to review the procedures.

Marilyn Dennis, board chair and CBE trustee for Wards 5 and 10. (CBE)

She said areas to examine would include, but not be limited to, compliance with the Education Act, trustee agenda requests, trustee inquiries and board bylaws. The goal is to provide recommendations to the board of trustees related to how board meeting procedures can be improved.

"So there are a number of activities still for this committee to complete, a number of suggestions still for this committee to bring before the board," said the chair.

"And I would expect that as has been past practice with this committee that they bring items forward to the board."

Dennis said they would then have considerable opportunity to be able to talk about what those amendments are and come to a general consensus of understanding of it and how they will play out in meetings.

"And so I would say that there is still more work to do," she said.

But, after the meeting, Davis made two Facebook posts again calling out the board. One outlined all the motions she had brought forward but were not debated in the past 18 months.

Trustee Lisa Davis raised concerns at the Jan. 14 meeting, and subsequently posted online these comments (excerpt), outlining the motions she proposed but that had not been debated. (Facebook)

And now, in a joint public statement, the other trustees are fighting back against what Davis has said.

"The views represented by trustee Davis are not those of the board. We were surprised by trustee Davis's posts and have asked her to take them down to allow the process to continue as trustees had previously agreed upon," they wrote.

According to the trustees, in June 2019, the board created a board procedures committee and committed to reviewing its agenda and planning procedures and how trustees can bring forward motions.

"This committee was formed to review board meeting procedures and policies in light of best practices and the principles of openness and transparency," they said.

"We are confident that our current governance policies and procedures are fully compliant with legislation and strong governance practices, and we look forward to board discussions around ways in which we can further improve."

The CBE is undergoing an independent financial and governance audit, ordered late last year by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. She has called the board "reckless" and "inappropriate" when it comes to their financial management in governance.

The audit report is expected to be handed to the minister by the end of the month.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at lucie.edwardson@cbc.ca

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