Trustees privately scrap public engagement sessions

As reported by Trustee Sheila Taylor on Twitter yesterday, the Calgary Board of Education trustees voted to remove the thirty minute public engagement session that is supposed to occur before public board meetings in a private meeting. Trustee George Lane was the mover of the motion and Trustees Ferguson, King and Cochrane supported him. Trustees Taylor and Bazinet were opposed to discussing the matter in private and also opposed the removal of the public engagement sessions. Trustee Bowen-Eyre was absent.

Perhaps you never heard of these sessions. That is because they were part of the new Board procedures brought forward by Trustees Cochrane, King and Bowen-Eyre on March 6, 2012 to begin on April 1, 2012. The introduction to the new procedures contained the following:

  • The Board of Trustees values dialogue with our communities. Strategic communication dialogues will be planned to facilitate the Board’s public engagement processes. More detailed work related to these processes is being prepared by the Working Group tasked by the Board with this job;
  • A pre-meeting session will be scheduled to allow community members to interact with the board members and chief superintendent one-half hour prior to the commencement of the board meeting

The strategic dialogues working group presented a report to the Board on March 6 for approval, but it was sent back and was supposed to come back to the Board at the next meeting. Two meetings have now gone by and the report has still not returned, which makes us wonder if these strategic dialogues have also been privately scrapped.

ARTICS began to question whether the 30 minute pre-meetings were actually taking place when the April 3 public board meeting agenda came out with no mention of the pre-meetings. A search of the Board procedures approved by trustees on March 6 showed an agenda template that contained a prominent reference at the top of the agenda to the pre-meetings. However, when we searched the new Board procedures posted on the CBE website, the template had been changed and all references to the pre-meeting were gone.

E-mails sent to Trustee Bowen-Eyre and the CBE Corporate Secretary on April 3, 2012 asking if the pre-meetings will still be taking place continue to remain unanswered.

It appears as if the pre-meetings were actually scrapped before they even began, but since the board of trustees did formally approve the pre-meetings, a formal motion would be needed to scrap them. One would think that such a matter would be done in a public board meeting so that the public would be able to hear the debate and reasoning for the removal of a public engagement session. Nope. Even though the School Act says that trustees must do their work in public, a majority of trustees voted that in their opinion it was in the “public interest” that they discuss the matter in private. (The actual voting had to be done in public by law). A discussion about whether or not to take away an opportunity for community members to interact with the board and superintendent is a private matter?

This reminds me of an old, satirical BBC TV episode of “Yes, Minister” where a government Minister wants to prevent the BBC from airing an embarrassing interview. His permanent secretary says it would only be possible if the BBC could be convinced that it was “in the public interest” that it not be aired. The minister responds, “Well, it’s not in my interest. And, I represent the public, so it’s not in the public interest!”

Outrageous, yes. Inconceivable? Maybe not.