Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
The real WSD work is done in secret
It was an amazing statement, all the more appalling in its banality.
Winnipeg School Division trustee Cathy Collins was telling the board Monday evening that while trustees will begin to hold more open budget meetings, they will still be free to duck behind closed doors as much as they want.
That, said Collins, could happen for personnel issues and issues of a sensitive nature.
"There are going to be times when we need frank discussions with each other," Collins said. "There has to be the opportunity to hold those discussions."
In a $365-million budget, when — other than buying less chalk or turning down the thermostat — would any budget item in a people-driven institution not involve personnel? When would cutting a budget not be sensitive? There are thousands of employees, and I doubt that budget talks ever justify respecting personnel confidentiality by getting to the micromanaging level of trustees deciding whether to lay off John Smith or Betty Brown.
But look again at what Collins said, the statement that didn’t bother anyone else around that board table: "There are going to be times when we need frank discussions with each other."
And just what is the talk that goes on now in public? Is it not frank? Are the trustees equivocating? Are the trustees obfuscating? Are the trustees prevaricating? Are the trustees making carefully-rehearsed statements and delivering lines and positions they’ve thought out ahead of time? Are the trustees hiding behind closed doors, lest someone take umbrage over their positions?
I’m not naive, I know that in some cases they’re posturing in public. I know they want to think out loud without their feet’s being held to the fire. They want to float trial balloons, and speculate about what the province might do or how bargaining might go.
In many cases, there’s a simple retort: tough it out, take personal and public responsibility.
Such a declaration about frankness behind closed doors certainly leads any reasonable observer to question whether trustees are speaking frankly and having real debate when they do deign to speak in public now.
I first heard this guff when I was covering small town councils and even smaller township councils in the rural areas between London and Kitchener back in the early 70s....the 1970s, thank you very much.
The councillors would do almost everything behind closed doors, almost none of that business falling within the confidential matters authorized in the Ontario Municipal Act.
They’d hear a delegation, then tell everyone else to leave the room so they could discuss it frankly.
I credit Ingersoll’s planning chair back then for at least having the gumption to say right out loud that if agenda items were discussed and voted upon in public session where everyone would hear him, he’d lose some customers at his jewellery store.
You stood for election and won. You have a lot of power. You’re responsible for the quality of education of one in six children in Manitoba and for the appropriate spending of an enormous amount of our money.
Is this the way we will tolerate the people acting who serve us?
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About Nick Martin
Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.
He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.
Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.
Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.
Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.
Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.
Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.
A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.
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