York trus­tee in­ves­ti­ga­tion cost $30K

Re­gion tax­pay­ers on the hook for le­gal fees billed for probe into ex-trus­tee’s racial slur

Toronto Star - - GTA - NOOR JAVED STAFF RE­PORTER

York Re­gion tax­pay­ers paid tens of thou­sands of dol­lars in le­gal fees for the pub­lic school board to in­ves­ti­gate a former trus­tee’s use of a racial slur.

The York Re­gion Dis­trict School Board racked up a le­gal bill of nearly $30,000 to in­ves­ti­gate whether former Ge­orgina-area trus­tee Nancy El­gie re­ferred to a par­ent us­ing the N-word last fall, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures ob­tained through Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion leg­is­la­tion.

“A to­tal of $29,978.49 was paid to a le­gal firm for their pro­fes­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion ser­vices,” the school board said, but would not share any fur­ther in­for­ma­tion in­clud­ing the name of the law firm or the fi­nal re­port.

An au­dit of the board made pub­lic last week by the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, found that the board spent more than $600,000 in le­gal fees and set­tle­ment pay­outs be­tween Septem­ber 2016 and April of this year

El­gie’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion took place dur­ing that pe­riod and came in the mid­dle of a tu­mul­tuous two years at the board, which was al­ready strug­gling to deal with in­ci­dents of racism, trus­tee mis­deeds and what many de­scribed as a cul­ture of fear among staff.

Last De­cem­ber, a Star probe found that El­gie was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the board for us­ing the N-word in re­fer­ring to aBlack par­ent after a heated school board meet­ing. At the time, the now-former di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion, J. Philip Parap­pally, said the board had opted to bring in a third party to con­duct an in­de­pen­dent probe (into the al­leged slur), deal­ing with the in­ci­dent as an em­ployee matter. Gen­er­ally, com­plaints against trustees are dealt with through a code of con­duct hear­ing — where fel­low trustees de­ter­mine how they should be cen­sured and what penal­ties ap­plied.

Even­tu­ally, after much pub­lic pres­sure, El­gie apol­o­gized for us­ing the slur and stepped down from the $23,500-a-year po­si­tion in Fe­bru­ary.

In March, the Star asked the board for all costs and re­ports re­lated to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, how­ever, the board re­fused to dis­close any in­for­ma­tion, claim­ing it was a record re­lated to “labour re­la­tions or to the em­ploy­ment of a per­son by the in­sti­tu­tion” — even though El­gie was not an em­ployee of the board, but an elected of­fi­cial.

The Star ap­pealed the board’s de­ci­sion with the pro­vin­cial In­for­ma­tion and Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner, and after me­di­a­tion, the board agreed to dis­close the to­tal amount paid, but no other in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, even though the matter has con­cluded and its out­come was pub­lic.

El­gie ad­mit­ted from the be­gin­ning that she had used the N-word, but said she “had mis­spo­ken.”

Her son, Ste­wart El­gie, told the Star his mother “ac­cepted the in­ves­ti­ga­tor’s find­ing that what she said was a vi­o­la­tion of pol­icy, even though it was ac­ci­den­tal.”

He said his mother’s be­hav­iour was out of char­ac­ter and that she had ear­lier bumped her head.

Char­line Grant, who filed a hu­man rights com­plaint with the board after learn­ing the slur has been di­rected at her, said it was “up­set­ting” to hear how much the board spent on its in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“It speaks to their level of in­com­pe­tence that they would take pub­lic funds, money that is meant for our chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion, and spend it on an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that they al­ready knew the an­swer to,” Grant said. “This was some­thing over­heard and by staff . . . and yet, they still did an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It’s so up­set­ting.”

She said the board spent more on El­gie, than what she even­tu­ally set­tled for with them. She had orig­i­nally asked for $20,000, but said she is un­able to say how much she even­tu­ally got, due to a con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ment.

“They are run­ning the board like a cor­po­ra­tion, and not like a school board where kids come first,” Grant said.

“And then they want us to pay for school sup­plies. Wow.”

York par­ent Todd Sil­ver­man, who has taken the board to task for their mis­use of funds around in­ter­na­tional travel, says he is “dis­gusted” at how much money was spent on “an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that ul­ti­mately re­sulted in the trus­tee ad­mit­ting her mis­con­duct. The board should have held the trus­tee ac­count­able for the fees as­so­ci­ated with this in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he said.

The board’s pol­icy does not re­quire re­im­burse­ment from staff or trustees fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, a spokesper­son for the board told the Star.

Board chair Lo­ralea Carruthers said the board was “re­quired to con­duct a thor­ough and in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” but would un­likely take that route to­day.

“We now have in place our in­tegrity com­mis­sioner who will pro­vide this ser­vice with a quicker turn­around in a more cost-ef­fec­tive man­ner,” she said. “We con­tinue to look to im­prove upon prac­tices of the past to en­sure pub­lic con­fi­dence in our board and also pru­dent use of tax­payer dol­lars.”

After a se­ries of Star sto­ries shed light on dys­func­tion at the York board, the min­istry launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion last Jan­uary, which re­sulted in a scathing re­port and led to the ouster of the di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion. The board is hop­ing to hire a new di­rec­tor by the end of this month.

Nancy El­gie’s ac­tions first came un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion in De­cem­ber 2016.

Nancy El­gie stepped down as a York Re­gion Dis­trict School Board trus­tee in Fe­bru­ary.

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