Hamilton school trustees spurn call to tape private sessions

News Jan 29, 2015 Hamilton Mountain News

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees have spurned a call to tape closed-door sessions to ensure there’s a verbatim record if they’re accused of improperly excluding the public.

Former Ward 6 trustee Laura Peddle pushed for the change at the previous board’s final meeting in November, arguing trustees should take advantage of the new Education Centre’s enhanced ability to record all meetings.

She said doing so would allow trustees “to review what had been heard behind closed doors” if challenged on the propriety of the session.

But following a review by their governance committee, trustees voted unanimously last week to take no action on Peddle’s request.

Board chair Todd White said existing practices already let the public know when and why trustees are going behind closed doors.

The Education Act only allows them to do so on matters related to property, litigation, employee negotiations and intimate, personal or financial information of individuals.

White said trustees are “very clear” on which section of the act they are using and the item to be discussed.

He said although the board does record public sessions for live streaming, it only does so “as a courtesy” so people can watch them online.

“There’s no point where the chair or staff are expected to review (the live-streamed sessions) to capture debate along those lines because our action items and direction provided is very, very clearly captured in our reports,” he said.

Contacted afterwards, Peddle said she’s disappointed trustees will remain “their own judge and jury” on whether private sessions stuck to matters allowed by the Education Act.

She said only time will tell if they can avoid controversies like last term’s closed-session vote to exclude Westmount from a Mountain high-school closure study – a vote that should have been held in public.

Peddle’s public criticisms of the decision prompted then-chair Judith Bishop to initiate a seven-month investigation into whether she had breached trustees’ code of conduct by disclosing confidential information.

The $50,000 probe ultimately concluded she had, but a slim majority of trustees declined to sanction her, including because the vote was among two years of decisions improperly made in closed session.

Peddle said although the dustup led trustees to revamp their governing practices, she’s concerned private sessions may again stray into sensitive public issues.

“That’s the danger. Unless there’s somebody in the meeting who speaks up and is actually heard and listened to, what stops them from repeating the problem, and then how does the public know?” she said.

“The idea of this is, should there ever be another issue, the record’s accessible and we’ll know exactly what happened.”

Despite rejecting Peddle’s proposal, Ward 3 rookie trustee Larry Pattison said he’s still thankful she raised the issue.

“Just so she knows, I was paying attention and I know I will be mindful of those concerns during these next four years,” he said.

Hamilton school trustees spurn call to tape private sessions

News Jan 29, 2015 Hamilton Mountain News

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees have spurned a call to tape closed-door sessions to ensure there’s a verbatim record if they’re accused of improperly excluding the public.

Former Ward 6 trustee Laura Peddle pushed for the change at the previous board’s final meeting in November, arguing trustees should take advantage of the new Education Centre’s enhanced ability to record all meetings.

She said doing so would allow trustees “to review what had been heard behind closed doors” if challenged on the propriety of the session.

But following a review by their governance committee, trustees voted unanimously last week to take no action on Peddle’s request.

Board chair Todd White said existing practices already let the public know when and why trustees are going behind closed doors.

The Education Act only allows them to do so on matters related to property, litigation, employee negotiations and intimate, personal or financial information of individuals.

White said trustees are “very clear” on which section of the act they are using and the item to be discussed.

He said although the board does record public sessions for live streaming, it only does so “as a courtesy” so people can watch them online.

“There’s no point where the chair or staff are expected to review (the live-streamed sessions) to capture debate along those lines because our action items and direction provided is very, very clearly captured in our reports,” he said.

Contacted afterwards, Peddle said she’s disappointed trustees will remain “their own judge and jury” on whether private sessions stuck to matters allowed by the Education Act.

She said only time will tell if they can avoid controversies like last term’s closed-session vote to exclude Westmount from a Mountain high-school closure study – a vote that should have been held in public.

Peddle’s public criticisms of the decision prompted then-chair Judith Bishop to initiate a seven-month investigation into whether she had breached trustees’ code of conduct by disclosing confidential information.

The $50,000 probe ultimately concluded she had, but a slim majority of trustees declined to sanction her, including because the vote was among two years of decisions improperly made in closed session.

Peddle said although the dustup led trustees to revamp their governing practices, she’s concerned private sessions may again stray into sensitive public issues.

“That’s the danger. Unless there’s somebody in the meeting who speaks up and is actually heard and listened to, what stops them from repeating the problem, and then how does the public know?” she said.

“The idea of this is, should there ever be another issue, the record’s accessible and we’ll know exactly what happened.”

Despite rejecting Peddle’s proposal, Ward 3 rookie trustee Larry Pattison said he’s still thankful she raised the issue.

“Just so she knows, I was paying attention and I know I will be mindful of those concerns during these next four years,” he said.

Hamilton school trustees spurn call to tape private sessions

News Jan 29, 2015 Hamilton Mountain News

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees have spurned a call to tape closed-door sessions to ensure there’s a verbatim record if they’re accused of improperly excluding the public.

Former Ward 6 trustee Laura Peddle pushed for the change at the previous board’s final meeting in November, arguing trustees should take advantage of the new Education Centre’s enhanced ability to record all meetings.

She said doing so would allow trustees “to review what had been heard behind closed doors” if challenged on the propriety of the session.

But following a review by their governance committee, trustees voted unanimously last week to take no action on Peddle’s request.

Board chair Todd White said existing practices already let the public know when and why trustees are going behind closed doors.

The Education Act only allows them to do so on matters related to property, litigation, employee negotiations and intimate, personal or financial information of individuals.

White said trustees are “very clear” on which section of the act they are using and the item to be discussed.

He said although the board does record public sessions for live streaming, it only does so “as a courtesy” so people can watch them online.

“There’s no point where the chair or staff are expected to review (the live-streamed sessions) to capture debate along those lines because our action items and direction provided is very, very clearly captured in our reports,” he said.

Contacted afterwards, Peddle said she’s disappointed trustees will remain “their own judge and jury” on whether private sessions stuck to matters allowed by the Education Act.

She said only time will tell if they can avoid controversies like last term’s closed-session vote to exclude Westmount from a Mountain high-school closure study – a vote that should have been held in public.

Peddle’s public criticisms of the decision prompted then-chair Judith Bishop to initiate a seven-month investigation into whether she had breached trustees’ code of conduct by disclosing confidential information.

The $50,000 probe ultimately concluded she had, but a slim majority of trustees declined to sanction her, including because the vote was among two years of decisions improperly made in closed session.

Peddle said although the dustup led trustees to revamp their governing practices, she’s concerned private sessions may again stray into sensitive public issues.

“That’s the danger. Unless there’s somebody in the meeting who speaks up and is actually heard and listened to, what stops them from repeating the problem, and then how does the public know?” she said.

“The idea of this is, should there ever be another issue, the record’s accessible and we’ll know exactly what happened.”

Despite rejecting Peddle’s proposal, Ward 3 rookie trustee Larry Pattison said he’s still thankful she raised the issue.

“Just so she knows, I was paying attention and I know I will be mindful of those concerns during these next four years,” he said.