How EMSB chair Angela Mancini and her director general went from brunch buddies to foes

CBC has obtained the full report into the tensions at the English Montreal School Board. It shows how tensions between chair Angela Mancini and two other people — Director General Ann Marie Matheson and current vicechair Joe Ortona — developed.

Unredacted report obtained by CBC News reveals new details about infighting at Quebec's largest English board

Former EMSB chair Angela Mancini, pictured here in 2019, portrayed herself as a victim to try to discredit others, according to an investigation. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Angela Mancini claimed to be a victim of psychological harassment in the workplace, but the former English Montreal School Board chair in fact "frequently misrepresented, embellished or omitted information or worse" to suit her story, or to tarnish the reputations of others, according to an unredacted report obtained by CBC News.

Human resources consultant Steven Droz produced the 273-page report after he was hired by EMSB trustee Marlene Jennings to conduct an independent investigation. He looked into dozens of complaints filed by Mancini in January 2020.

Mancini accused the director general at the time, Ann Marie Matheson, and Joe Ortona, who is now vice-chair, of creating a harmful work environment.

An earlier report by CBC News about the investigation was based on a redacted version of the report, obtained through an access-to-information request.

The full report reveals that Matheson and Mancini were once friends who attended dinners, brunches, plays and New Years celebrations together, in and around 2012-2014. Ortona, too, was originally a professional ally of Mancini's and ran as a part of her team in the 2014 election.

But Droz's findings suggest that, over the years, the relationships deteriorated to the point where the EMSB council and its highest ranking administrators were divided into two camps: those who supported Mancini and everyone else.

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

Playing victim to discredit others, says report

A key turning point seems to have been in 2016, when there were disagreements about candidates for senior roles such as vice-principal and principal. This incident, among others, led Droz to conclude that "Ms. Mancini is completely intolerant of any opinions, questions or feedback that differ from her own perspective."

Things went downhill after that.

What followed were years of ethics complaints, tense meetings interrupted by outbursts and crying, and general turmoil.

Droz concludes that Mancini's harassment complaints are unfounded, filed in a "vexatious and bad faith manner" as an attempt "to thoroughly discredit Ms. Matheson and Mr. Ortona … while presenting herself as the victim."

Wine, cheese and wet bars

Mancini complained that, in November 2016, Matheson had hosted a few 5-à-7-style meetings with EMSB directors in her office, where alcohol and food were served.

Mancini alleges "during these meetings the DG [Matheson] made several derogatory comments towards me," but the chair was unable to be more specific.

Matheson told Droz she did host meetings with wine, cheese and light snacks as a way to "rally her team" because they were all "fed up with being targeted and insulted" by Mancini and her allies.

The investigator points out that he visited Mancini's office at one point and saw firsthand that she had her own "small and stocked wet-bar."

He dismissed the complaint and found Mancini's mention of alcohol to be a "somewhat indirect, petty attempt to question [Matheson's] judgement."

Ann Marie Matheson, who has not seen a copy of the unredacted report, said she has decided to move on with her head held high for what she accomplished with her team despite the turmoil. (EMSB)

The card controversy: 'Unity in the face of adversity'

Mancini also complained about a card that was signed by several EMSB directors and given to Matheson in April 2018.

Mancini said Matheson read the card during a council meeting to show everyone that she was a good director general.

According to the report, the card states: "Dear Ann Marie, during this time of difficulty, we would like to express how much we appreciate you [sic] leadership, your integrity, your heart. You dare to do what is right and not what is easy. You continue to trust an [sic] empower us, And in turn we are stronger, and united, we stand with you."

Matheson told the investigator the card had been left on her desk and that she had mentioned it during a council meeting but never read it out loud.

Droz dismissed this as another effort by Mancini to deflect and discredit Matheson.

"There is no evidence of subterfuge or psychological harassment here, but rather what I would describe as a not very surprising expression of unity and support in the face of adversity," he states.

Mancini says she feared for her safety

In one board meeting in August 2019, emotions were running high.

In a complaint, Mancini claimed that "Ann Marie Matheson verbally aggressed me. It was violent, hostile, yelling and threatening."

She says the director general "came into my personal space and within inches from my face, frantically waving her documents at me and yelling at the top of her lungs." She claimed the encounter left her shaking with fear for her safety.

But Droz says Mancini's version of events changed over time and he believes she was trying to make "a somewhat heated, but relatively brief two-minute plus argument sound much more ominous and threatening."

Puppet-DG or Puppet Chairman?

As he goes through each complaint, Droz repeatedly concludes that Mancini has twisted basic facts or omitted details.

But Mancini defended herself to Droz, describing herself as someone who has "the EMSB tattooed on my heart." She stated: "I decided that I will not be bullied out of my role and mandate."

She also blames Matheson for micro-managing and states: "Ms. Matheson likes to say that I wanted a 'Puppet-DG,' but in reality, she wanted a 'Puppet-Chairman.'"

In an email to CBC News, Matheson said that was "silly."

"I only ever wanted the roles and responsibilities for management and governance defined, delineated and respected. But mostly respected," she said.

Principals and staff came out to say goodbye to Ann Marie Matheson on Aug. 12, at her final meeting as EMSB director general. (Submitted by The EMSB)

What now? The future of the EMSB

Mancini resigned in July, after parts of the report were first made public, including Droz's recommendation that she be barred from running in future elections. Matheson has resigned as director general, effective today.

Vice-chair Ortona remains at the EMSB and will be taking over for Mancini until the fall elections.

Ortona told CBC News that he hopes the English Montreal community will not paint the entire school board with the same brush because of a few personality problems.

"We have so many competent, brilliant, well-intentioned people within our network that do amazing things," Ortona said. "My hope is that this report is rendered public so that the public could really see the truth behind who really did the damage."

Vice-chair Joe Ortona said the actions of a few people shouldn’t taint the school board as a whole. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

In an email to CBC, Matheson said she joined the EMSB board believing that she and Mancini together had much to offer.

"I never could have imagined how things would unravel. It was all very unfortunate," she said.

On the first day her resignation took effect, Matheson said she wishes the school board nothing but great success. She said it is filled with qualified and dedicated professionals who "never lose sight, despite the turmoil, of their primary role and mission: student success."

CBC News made multiple attempts to get in touch with Mancini but was unable to reach her before publishing this story. In previous interviews, she has called the investigation process unfair, because Droz only interviewed Mancini and the two people she'd accused.

"His conclusions are based entirely on the perpetrators' denials," she said in July. 

She maintains that she was harassed.

CBC News reached out to Droz for further comment and he would only say that he stands by the conclusions in his report.