Winnipeg School Division takes down video of meeting involving trustee’s removal

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The Winnipeg School Division has pulled a public video from YouTube of a recent board meeting in which a trustee was removed due to allegations she was intoxicated on the conference call.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/02/2022 (290 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg School Division has pulled a public video from YouTube of a recent board meeting in which a trustee was removed due to allegations she was intoxicated on the conference call.

Trustees paused the proceedings to hold a private session to deal with their colleague’s removal.

In recent months, the WSD board — the largest in Manitoba — has livestreamed its twice-monthly meetings and posted the sessions both on the video-sharing platform and its trustee website for the public to view.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Cindy Murdoch has not replied to multiple requests for comment.

Because of COVID-19 precautions, participation has been a mix of in-person attendance at WSD offices on Wall Street and trustees using Microsoft Teams remotely.

Monday’s livestreamed meeting was available the following day, but it was no longer accessible several hours after the Free Press published a story about what had transpired.

“Video unavailable,” the web page affiliated with the link states. “This video is private.”

Board member Chris Broughton took to Twitter Wednesday to say he was “disappointed in the lack of transparency and accountability by WSD” in removing the video, which the trustee for Ward 2 indicated was not authorized by the board.

“I believe the public should have access to scrutinize our work,” he tweeted.

Approximately 15 minutes into the Monday livestream, Broughton called for a point of order to hold an in-camera session.

The action was taken after trustees, including Ward 5 representative Cindy Murdoch, listened to a student delegation at the top of the agenda. Throughout the delegation, Murdoch appeared restless and unfocused. When she spoke during a question-and-answer forum, her speech was slurred.

Three division sources confirmed that during the private meeting Murdoch — who has been accused of on-the-job intoxication on at least two previous occasions — maintained she was sober.

Murdoch has not replied to multiple requests for comment. Neither board chairwoman Betty Edel nor Alan Campbell, the president of the Manitoba School Boards Association, could be reached for comment.

Sources with information about the ongoing issue have indicated that Murdoch, who earns at least $21,500 annually as an elected official, has refused to resign. They said it is clear she is unable to perform her duties.

Murdoch made a statement on her challenges with mental-health issues after she was temporarily suspended from the board for a breach of the trustee code of conduct — an action she condemned — in May 2020.

Division sources confirmed this week that the penalty was related to her behaviour at a 2019 board meeting, during which she is alleged to have fallen asleep as a result of intoxication.

However, at the time of her suspension, Murdoch said she was being penalized by the board for her mental-health issues after revealing to WSD staff that she was seeking residential treatment.

The rare suspension occurred two weeks after the then-39 year old briefly went missing. Police reported she had been found safe on April 21.

“Since April 21st I have been participating in residential treatment, and have been making great strides in overcoming the many challenges I face. The onset of COVID-19 resulted in a reduction of the mental-health supports I had been receiving since November, and this was the best way to continue to receive help,” Murdoch wrote in a statement on May 8, 2020.

“I believe the great personal efforts I am making to overcome these many challenges should be a source of inspiration, not condemnation and suspension.”

YOUTUBE The Winnipeg School Division board paused a virtual meeting before removing Cindy Murdoch (bottom right) “due to improper conduct”.

In the statement, Murdoch noted that people with mental-health challenges are disregarded as not being “up to standard” far too often. Following her suspension, Murdoch filed a human rights complaint against the division.

A division spokesperson declined to comment on the situation — including the unresolved complaint — Wednesday, but noted the board of trustees has scheduled a special private meeting to discuss the matter on Feb. 28.

“My hope all along has been for Cindy to get to a better place. Unfortunately, that’s not occurring and she hasn’t taken any of the suggestions to resign,” said one division source.

“The Winnipeg School Division has a lot of important work to do and it’s unfortunate that we’re in a situation where our credibility and the decisions we are making could be brought into question because a trustee continues to be under the influence and is unwilling to address this.”

Issues of trustees underperforming are usually dealt with at the ballot box, said Cameron Hauseman, an assistant professor of education at the University of Manitoba.

“There really aren’t any mechanisms within the Public Schools Act to remove trustees from public office due to this kind of behaviour,” said Hauseman, who researches school leadership and governance.

A school board can declare a seat vacant if a member dies, resigns, fails to attend three consecutive regular meetings without authorization, or ceases to live in the district. Trustees can also be disqualified from holding office if they violate any provision of the provincial legislation or are convicted of a crime.

Hauseman said this situation is unique and nuanced, although it has the potential to hurt public trust in the board — depending on how WSD responds to the situation.

The researcher said he hopes the individual involved can seek assistance and get to a position where they can fulfil their role in a way that both they and the constituents who elected them had envisioned.

Meantime, a voluntary leave of absence or resignation is the best option “to preserve the sanctity of the elected office,” he said.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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Updated on Wednesday, February 9, 2022 4:52 PM CST: Adds reaction

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