Trustee censure issue closed

Limestone Learning Foundation
Trustee censure issue closed
Posted on 01/16/2020
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At the regular meeting of the Board of Trustees on January 15, 2020, Trustees discussed the receipt of 17 letters asking for a review of the Limestone District School Board of Trustees.

Because many of these letters contained several inaccuracies, and related to matters of the previously elected Board, Chair Suzanne Ruttan read a statement to correct and clarify misleading information and restate the facts. Read the full statement below.

While several of the letters referenced past Board decisions that will not be revisited, Chair Ruttan did engage Trustee Hutcheon regarding her recent censure. Given the apology letter from Trustee Hutcheon, the Chair asked the Trustee to confirm that she accepted her censure and was ready to move on. Trustee Hutcheon indicated that this was the case.

As such, Chair Ruttan recommended no further action on these letters or subsequent letters dealing with the same issues. “Given the current political landscape and the very serious challenges facing public education today, I am pleased we have agreed to move forward in a positive, productive and collaborative way,” said Ruttan. “Trustees serve large constituencies, and fulfilling the representational role is challenging. Although a Trustee must serve their community as an elected representative, their primary task is to act as a member of a corporate board, and to be accountable for the collective decisions of the Board and the delivery and quality of educational services.”

Trustee Morning put forth a motion for the Board to proceed with a governance review. After much discussion by Trustees, Trustee Morning amended the motion to read “that all future trustee censures be investigated by an independent integrity commissioner.” Trustee Gingrich then put forth a motion to defer the motion until such time as staff can provide a report on costs and logistics involved with retaining an integrity commissioner. This motion was passed by the Board.

Read the live tweet coverage of the Jan. 15, 2020 Board meeting.

Chair Statement re External Reports and Other Communications - January 15, 2020

First, I will deal with queries around the closure of Yarker Family School. The Board of Trustees voted in June 2017 to close Yarker Family School following an extensive Program and Accommodation Review Process that included consultation over eight months. The Board received notice of the application for an Administrative Review from a two community groups and Eric DePoe citing improper process. The Ministry of Education determined in September 2017 that the Board followed process and procedure during the Pupil Accommodation Review, and dismissed the request for an Administrative Review. The school was closed in June 2018 and students were relocated to Odessa PS in September 2018. This decision will obviously not be revisited. In fact, the former school building was sold to the municipality in 2019.

Next, I will deal with the censure of Trustee Hutcheon and calls for a review. Some of the letter writers call for a review of the recent censure of Trustee Hutcheon citing that the matter was not discussed in public session, that she was censured for representing a constituent via an email to the Director, and that the censure has removed Trustee Hutcheon’s ability to represent her constituents. These statements are all untrue. Also, it’s important to note that the Board has sought an independent opinion of this issue and the review finds that the Board followed the Education Act, Ministry of Education regulations and Board policy with respect to governance matters.

Discussion around the censure of Trustee Hutcheon initially took place in private session because the issue at hand involved a school matter and subsequent personnel issue. As you know, Trustees, we discuss items in private session when they deal with personnel, property or legal matters. The results of the discussion, however, to censure Trustee Hutcheon, was discussed in public session. At the regular Board meeting on November 13, 2019, Trustees approved the censure of Trustee Hutcheon for violations of Policy 3: Director of Education Job Description by overstepping her governance role and becoming involved in the organization and operation of the district, which is the role of the Director of Education, and violations of Policy 5: Trustee Code of Conduct where Trustee Hutcheon was found to have: criticized fellow Board members, the Board, or employees, in or out of the board room; disrespected the roles and duties of the individual Trustees, Board of Trustees, the Director of Education and the Chair of the Board; exerted individual authority over the organization; and failed to discharge her duties in accordance with the Education Act and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Several members of the public believe, incorrectly, that Trustee Hutcheon was censured for her interaction with a constituent regarding a school matter. This is, absolutely, not the case. In addition to their governance role, Trustees are indeed responsible for helping facilitate constituent concerns. Constituents can always contact their area trustee regarding a concern, just as trustees can absolutely email or call the Director regarding a concern as outlined in our resolution process. The trustee was not censured for emailing the Director, but for weighing in on a school matter without having all of the information thereby breaching the Trustee Code of Conduct.

Trustees voted unanimously to impose two consequences on Trustee Hutcheon: that she write a letter of apology to the principal involved, and that she review the OPSBA Good Governance Guide. As you heard earlier this evening, Trustee Hutcheon did complete her letter of apology to the principal where she wrote that she handled the situation in question very poorly, and was too quick to judge. Further, she wrote that she hoped to learn from this experience, and believed strongly in trust as an integral part of being a trustee. Trustee Hutcheon was not removed from her role as Trustee, and was, and is, able to represent her constituents as she always has. In fact, over the holiday break, Trustee Hutcheon forwarded at least one constituent concern to the Director via email for response as is outlined in both Limestone policy and the OPSBA Good Governance Guide.

Also, as is our process, Trustee Hutcheon was provided with several opportunities to address the Board following the vote on her censure and consequences. This could have been done verbally at the November 13 Board meeting where the censure was approved, or the December 11 Board meeting. As was outlined in her letter of censure, Trustee Hutcheon also had the opportunity to address the Board in writing before November 29, 2019 in accordance with Bill 177, Section 218.3.6 of the Education Act. She was given four weeks to respond in lieu of the usual two weeks. Also, in accordance with the regulation, the Board will consider any such written submissions within 14 days of receipt, to either uphold, revoke or modify the original motion. The Board has received no reply from Trustee Hutcheon regarding her censure, indicating she disagreed with the determination, or that she wished to appeal the decision. In fact, it would appear from her apology letter to the principal that she acknowledges her error and is committed to moving forward in a positive and productive matter. Furthermore, in a subsequent interview with Global Kingston, following her censure, Trustee Hutcheon indicated that she accepted the censure and how the Board dealt with her actions. And, in a social media post on her own Facebook page dated November 18, 2019, Trustee Hutcheon stated that she was not censured just to be censured, and that she respected the decision of her colleagues. It appears quite clearly that Trustee Hutcheon accepts her censure and subsequent consequences.

Moving on to those calling for a further independent review of former censured Trustee Tom Mahoney. The former Board dealt with this issue at length. To recap, for those of you who were not on the Board at the time, Mr. Mahoney received multiple censures for inappropriate behaviour in contravention of multiple policies, and his repeated disrespectful behaviour to staff, and to the integrity of the role of Trustee. The most serious of these was the harassment of a frontline unionized staff member.

He was directed to write a letter of apology and complete a sensitivity course. Mr. Mahoney initially did neither and was further sanctioned for his lack of action. He, too, had an opportunity to address the Board regarding his censure but chose not to do so. He did, however, appear on local media several times to refute the censure with incorrect information. At the time, and at dozens of times since then, Mr. Mahoney and others have incorrectly reported that he was censured for passing on a constituent concern. This is not the case. There is a full record of discipline on file which was handed out to you in advance of the meeting. Following Mr. Mahoney’s third censure in a six-month period, the Board voted to sanction him. Mr. Mahoney also admitted his guilt in the media. Furthermore, the Board did engage an independent, third-party review of Mr. Mahoney’s actions following a Board motion requesting a formal inquiry by an outside consultant.

Finally, it is important for Trustees to remember, and the public to know, that all Limestone District School Board policies are aligned with the Education Act and Ministry of Education regulations. When dealing with code of conduct violations, the Board employs a progressive discipline model for all members including trustees, employees and students. The Board expects all of its members, including elected trustees, to demonstrate ethical, respectful and professional conduct. You can be assured that the censure of trustees only occurs after numerous cautions for similar infractions.

For more information, please contact:
Jane Douglas, Communications officer
Communications Officer
613-544-6925 x 311 | 613-328-0916 mobile
Karen Smith, Communications Officer
613-544-6925 x 314 | 613-328-0947 mobile

The Limestone District School Board is situated on traditional territories of the Anishinaabe & Haudenosaunee.