Trustee accused of confidentiality breach

Peggy Revell

Rainy River District School Board trustee David Kircher has been accused of breaching confidentiality after information on changes to senior administration severance packages approved by the former board at its final meeting was made public.
Concern over a possible breach was raised during last week’s monthly board meeting when former chair and current trustee Dan Belluz stated that following January’s board meeting, he went out for coffee and information discussed during the in-camera session was the topic of conversation.
Belluz noted that when he brought the possible breach to the attention of the director of education, who then notified board chair Michael Lewis, he did not name any trustee.
But when given time by Lewis to state their sides at last week’s meeting, Kircher stated he had been the one to share the information, although he disagreed with it being a breach of the Trustee Code of Conduct.
“In fact, the activities of the 2010 board are in stark contrast to the defined intent and rationale of the Code of Conduct,” he charged.
“The fact of the matter is the 2010 board, by resolution, amended the contracts of senior management by quadrupling the severance payout for dismissal,” Kircher noted.
“Said amendments created a new potential cost to the current board of about $1.3 million, or three percent of the board’s current budget,” he remarked, noting this decision was not reported as required during the open session of the Nov. 2 meeting.
Kircher also said the former board had “the audacity” to do this after the results of the October municipal election were known and only two of seven trustees would be returning.
“Mr. Belluz, as chair of the 2010 board, does not want this amendment out in the public arena, as he may have to explain the activities of the previous board to [his] constituents,” Kircher said.
“The shroud of secrecy surrounding the 2010 board has, at least in this matter, been pierced.”
The new board first addressed the issue over the amended contracts for both Education Director Heather Campbell and Superintendent of Education Laura Mills during January’s in-camera session—with the board moving to report in public that the contracts had been amended.
Following this meeting, the Fort Frances Times requested more details concerning the amended contracts from Lewis and board administration, who declined comment with further information.
Currently, the Times has filed a request with the board under the province’s Freedom of Information Act for the contract details, and is awaiting the 30-day time period before the board is required to respond.
But following the board’s in-camera meeting last month, Kircher stated he believed the new board had decided the information was open to the public, citing the Municipal Freedom of Information Act which he believes makes this information exempt from privacy and non-disclosure policies.
“The 2010 board, by its various actions, demonstrated its desire to keep what the board had enacted out of the public arena and away from the current board for as long as possible, contrary to both the Education Act and the MFIPP Act,” Kircher charged.
Belluz refused to make any public comment on the “letters of intent” (which the contract amendments are referred to as) because he said it is unclear whether the exact nature of the information included in them was public or not.
Belluz defended the actions of the old board, however, pointing to the section of the Education Act pertaining to the disclosure of intimate personal or financial information, and how the he had sought legal advice from a lawyer when the old board was dealing with this matter.
“His suggestion was that since it was a personal contract, it falls under this part of the legislation, and we followed his advice,” said Belluz, declining to tell Kircher the name of the lawyer from whom advice was sought.
“My concern is that when we go in-camera and we have a discussion, and the next day one trustee decides that it should have not been in-camera and he discusses the in-camera, comes back to this board and we, as a board, decide, ‘Well, maybe we shouldn’t have discussed that in-camera because it’s public information’— I guess my question is, why did we even discuss it in-camera period at that time?” Belluz asked.
If the majority of the board felt the discussion should be done in public, they should have ceased discussion in-camera and brought it to the public agenda, Belluz argued.
“[Chair Lewis], after the meeting, had reported quite correctly that we had discussed two letters of intent, and that’s the only information that [he] disclosed,” Belluz said about what followed the in-camera session.
But Kircher said that when Lewis reporting discussion of the “letter of intent,” alongside the majority of the board feeling the former board’s actions should be public, meant the issue no longer was an in-camera one.
Citing Section. 14.1(f) of the Freedom of Information legislation, Kircher stated that disclosure of personal information is permitted if the disclosure does not constitute an unjustified invasion of personal privacy.
To determine if the disclosure of personal information constitutes an justified invasion of privacy, the act states that a “disclosure of personal information is desirable for the purpose of subjecting the activities of the institution to public scrutiny,” argued Kircher, something that the 2010 board and current board should be subjected to.
As well, Kircher pointed to Sec. 14.(4).(a) of the act, which excludes the classifications salary ranges and benefits of employment responsibilities of an individual who is, or was, an officer of employee of the institution from non-disclosure.
Kircher also highlighted Section 16 the act, which states that: “If there is compelling public interest in the disclosure of the personal information that clearly outweighs the purpose of the exemptions from disclosure, Section 16 waives the exemptions from disclosure contained in Sections 7, 9, 11, 13, and 14 of the Act.”
“The intent being [that] publicly-funded institutions not use ‘personal information’ to conduct board business, in-camera, particularly when the business involves public fund,” he argued.
Kircher said this case also shows the need for “lame duck” legislation, where outgoing boards cannot impose financial burdens on the incoming ones.
And with the statements from the trustees being taken over the “breach,” Kircher requested that the board not go in-camera to “discuss his fate.”
But Lewis stated that “given the nature of the issue, this is basically the trustees that have to decide whether this is a breach, and trustees should decide amongst themselves if there is a breach with people not present first.”
Once this is decided, Lewis said they would announce the decision publicly.
As per policy when it comes to breaches of the Trustee Code of Conducts, the board met privately following the end of the last week’s regular meeting to discuss whether or not there was a breach.
Following this, Lewis reported to the Times that trustees hadn’t been able to reach a decision, and the issue will be held over to be discussed at March’s meeting.