School clo­sures raise con­flict of in­ter­est con­cern

It may not be against any Burling­ton coun­cil rules, but coun­cil­lor should re­main im­par­tial

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - JIM DUNN

Judge for your­self, but it seems that Meed Ward’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the PARC would have been in vi­o­la­tion of this Code (of Con­duct). Note that the code says coun­cil­lors should avoid the ap­pear­ance of con­flict, too.

Many peo­ple in Burling­ton are rais­ing ques­tions about the in­volve­ment of a city coun­cil­lor in the Hal­ton District School Board’s (HDSB) rec­om­men­da­tion to close Lester B. Pear­son and Robert Bate­man sec­ondary schools. The di­vi­sive process be­gan with a di­rec­tor’s rec­om­men­da­tion to close Pear­son and Cen­tral schools, but the di­rec­tor’s fi­nal re­port saved Cen­tral from clo­sure and rec­om­mends Bate­man be closed in­stead. One of Cen­tral’s par­ent rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the school clo­sure process was Ward 2 Coun­cil­lor Mar­i­anne Meed Ward.

When I first be­came aware that Meed Ward had a for­mal role in the HDSB’s sec­ondary school clo­sure re­view, it seemed strange. There is a tra­di­tion in many com­mu­ni­ties of city coun­cils and school boards avoid­ing in­ter­fer­ence in each oth­ers’ af­fairs. Meed Ward is one of two par­ents from Cen­tral High School who are part of the board’s Pupil Ac­com­mo­da­tion Re­view Com­mit­tee (PARC), which is made up of 14 par­ents from dif­fer­ent sec­ondary schools.

Then when I saw her pho­tographed at a Queen’s Park news con­fer­ence with On­tario PC Leader Pa­trick Brown hold­ing a “Save Cen­tral” poster and ad­vo­cat­ing for the end of the PARC process in On­tario, I be­came more con­cerned.

Also, at city coun­cil meet­ings, Meed Ward twice launched ag­gres­sive take­downs of Coun. Paul Sharman’s mo­tion to have coun­cil ask the pro­vin­cial govern­ment to sus­pend the school clo­sure re­view, de­spite the fact she pushed for a sim­i­lar idea four weeks ear­lier with Brown.

With th­ese two per­for­mances in mind, what could Meed Ward’s mo­tive be to serve on the PARC? It’s hard to avoid the con­clu­sion it is about the pro­mo­tion of her political for­tunes and lit­tle else.

How could this have hap­pened? The City of Burling­ton has a draft Coun­cil Code of Con­duct that has been de­bated but never passed.

The code states that coun­cil­lors “shall avoid the im­proper use of the in­flu­ence of their of­fice and shall avoid con­flicts of in­ter­est, both ap­par­ent and real.” Under “Im­proper Use of In­flu­ence,” the draft code says: “Mem­bers of coun­cil should not use the sta­tus of their po­si­tion to in­flu­ence the de­ci­sion of an­other in­di­vid­ual to the private ad­van­tage of one­self, or one’s par­ents, chil­dren or spouse, staff mem­bers, friends, or as­so­ci­ates, busi­ness or oth­er­wise.”

It was never voted on, how­ever, so the city has no code of con­duct in force.

Judge for your­self, but it seems that Meed Ward’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the PARC would have been in vi­o­la­tion of this code. Note that the code says coun­cil­lors should avoid the ap­pear­ance of con­flict, too.

Even with­out the code, sim­ple logic tells us that Meed Ward’s two roles are con­flict­ing. She can­not, with­out con­flict, si­mul­ta­ne­ously rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of Cen­tral school at the PARC and the in­ter­ests of the City of Burling­ton.

As just one il­lus­tra­tion of this con­flict, Cen­ten­nial Pool, which is at­tached to Bate­man, is owned by the school board but op­er­ated by the city, and was re­cently ren­o­vated at the city’s ex­pense for $3 million.

How can Meed Ward pro­tect the city’s in­ter­est in Cen­ten­nial Pool and at the same time rep­re­sent a group that seeks to keep Cen­tral open at the ex­pense of Bate­man, af­fect­ing the vi­a­bil­ity of the pool?

As cit­i­zens, we should all be ask­ing why city coun­cil has not passed the Coun­cil Code of Con­duct, and what, if any­thing, Meed Ward has done to man­age her con­flicts.

The bot­tom line is that city coun­cil should pass and en­force its Code of Con­duct and the school board should pre­vent elected of­fi­cials from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the PARC as school rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

While Meed Ward por­trays her­self as sim­ply a con­cerned par­ent, if that was her only mo­tive, she could have avoided any ap­pear­ance of con­flict by al­low­ing an­other par­ent to sit on the PARC while pro­vid­ing sup­port in the back­ground. In­stead, she has seized the op­por­tu­nity to raise her pro­file while as­sert­ing her right as a par­ent to be on the PARC and deny­ing any con­flict be­cause there is no code.

Ul­ti­mately, this is a missed op­por­tu­nity to teach our chil­dren some im­por­tant lessons. As an adult, you have to make choices: par­ent rep­re­sen­ta­tive or city coun­cil­lor. And just be­cause some­thing isn’t ex­plic­itly pro­hib­ited, that doesn’t make it right.

Jim Dunn is the par­ent of a Burling­ton el­e­men­tary school stu­dent who should have at­tended Bate­man.

GRA­HAM PAINE, METROLAND

Sup­port­ers of Robert Bate­man High School rally in March as they lob­bied to avoid clo­sure of the Burling­ton high school.

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