The school closure process is not easy for anyone. From families planning for their children’s future to officials making decisions that will affect a large population, it can be a tense time all around.
However, it should also be a fully transparent exercise and the public’s right to know should not be impeded in any way.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board appears to believe otherwise.
Over the next five years, the status of 80 of the board’s 95 elementary schools will be reviewed as the board seeks to cut 5,000 surplus pupil spaces.
Against the advice of Todd White, chair of the board’s policy committee, trustees last month voted to change its policy to allow members of accommodation review committees to cast secret ballots rather than vote openly through a show of hands or recorded vote.
It is clearly the wrong thing to do in a democratic society.
“In my opinion, every committee member around the table should have an open and transparent vote,” White correctly noted. “Many of the decisions will be controversial and many of the decisions will be split, but that being said, the communities that elect or select their representatives want to ensure that they’re voting in their best interest.”
Board chair Tim Simmons defended the policy change, indicating that the idea was to ensure committee members feel “comfortable when making difficult decisions in a very public environment.” He also noted that ARC committee members are volunteering their time to help the school board make some very difficult decisions.
Ward 8 trustee Wes Hicks offered a confused take on the situation: “I think everybody has the right to vote their conscience and it doesn’t have to be public,” he said. “That’s the democratic way. You go into an election, you go in and you vote and your ballot is the way you believe it is.”
Indeed, that is the process for regular citizens at a polling station, most definitely, but not for people elected or volunteering to serve on a public board or committee.
The premise of a secret ballot – to allow those participating to vote with their conscience without fear of repercussion – may seem to be the best way to gauge the lay of the land when it comes to dealing with an especially sensitive issue.
However, when it comes to casting a vote on behalf of the constituents who elected trustees to serve their best interests, there is no question that every vote must be open and transparent no matter how contentious the issue, and that those who cast them are accountable to the people they represent.
It is imperative that the electorate is just as “comfortable” with the vote – and the decision-making process itself – as the person they elect
To clarify: the general public can cast their vote to elect an official in secret; those who serve us cannot.
Canadians expect — no, we demand — anyone making decisions on a public matter to do so in a transparent way. No exceptions.
Do you think the school board should allow committees to cast secret ballot votes on issues affecting the constituents they serve? Take our poll at our home page on hamiltonnews.com.