Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Trustees' votes to remain off record

Babinsky: WSD board chooses 'smokescreen'

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Winnipeg School Division trustees voted this week not to amend their policy on recorded votes -- which one trustee believes is an insult to taxpayers and a slap in the face of accountability.

A request to record the vote on recorded votes was rejected.

Trustee Mike Babinsky introduced the motion that would allow any trustee to request a recorded vote on any board decision "without stipulation." A policy was amended last year that now requires the majority of trustees favour whether or not a particular vote can be recorded.

"It shows where individuals stand," Babinsky said.

However, trustee Kristine Barr argued Babinksy's motion was not written in accordance with bylaw changes, which are to be introduced and require three readings. Or the motion could have been forwarded to a subcommittee for discussion and review.

Babinsky refused to alter his original motion, saying each trustee knew the exact intent of the amendment.

"It was written in simple English language," Babinsky said. "If you don't want to make it happen, don't make it happen. But don't play games. I dug in my heels because I wanted the public to understand.

"You have to ask why the majority of the board didn't want to keep it going," he added. "This is a smokescreen."

Barr explained the WSD policy on recorded votes was changed last year by a bylaw review committee which determined requests that call for each councillor to stand and verbalize their "aye" or "nay" were becoming too numerous and counterproductive.

"That was occurring on many small administrative matters at many times," Barr said. "That was becoming disruptive to business. We decided this would be better."

Asked to describe "many," Barr estimated it to be at least three times each board meeting. On the vast majority of cases, trustee Babinsky was requesting the recorded vote.

"It's not necessary for every matter that comes before the board," she said.

For example, Barr cited a request to record a vote at the Monday meeting -- a motion to realign ward sizes -- that was carried by the board.

Babinsky's motion was defeated 4-3 -- Barr, Suzanne Hrynyk, Mark Wasyliw and Darlyne Bautista voted against, while trustees Babinsky, Jackie Sneesby and Anthony Ramos voted in favour. Babinsky plans to introduce another similar motion on June 17.

Barr echoed statements WSD chair Rita Hildahl made to the Free Press last Saturday, saying if local residents want to see how trustees vote on motions they can attend meetings. (With few exceptions, minutes contain only "carried" or "defeated" on motions.)

That sentiment was criticized by University of Winnipeg professor Arthur Schafer, the director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics.

"I think that answer shows contempt for citizens," Schafer said. "What about people who aren't mobile? What about people who work? What about people who don't have the time to attend these board meetings?"

In fact, when asked about the WSD recorded vote policy, Schafer replied, "Let's start with a more basic question: Why shouldn't every vote be recorded... so citizens could check if they wish?"

With current technology, votes could be made public and posted online, Schafer added. Not just the WSD, either, but all school divisions and municipal and city councils.

"It's just part of the democratic process," he noted. "It's good practice. They should have a very special reason (not to record votes)."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 5, 2013 A7

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