Special Report: Education

Trustee Accused of Conflict of Interest in School Closure

A West Hamilton resident has filed an application accusing HWDSB Trustee Judish Bishop of violating the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act over her votes to close Prince Philip School while keeping GR Allan and Dalewood open.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 25, 2013

A West Hamilton resident has filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to have his school board Trustee removed from office under the terms of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

Mark Coakley alleges that Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) trustee Judish Bishop contravened the Act by failing to disclose a conflict of interest when voting to close Prince Philip School while keeping GR Allan and Dalewood Schools open.

According to Coakley's argument, when Bishop voted last April to sell Prince Philip and use the money to renovate the other two schools, she should have disclosed that she lives close to the other schools and stands to benefit financially from their remaining open.

The argument is that property values are higher in neighbourhoods with local schools, and the closure of Prince Philip will reduce property values in West Hamilton while boosting property values - including Bishop's home - around the refurbished Westdale schools that remain open.

Conflict of Interest Legislation

Section 5(1) of the Act reads:

5. (1) Where a member, either on his or her own behalf or while acting for, by, with or through another, has any pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, in any matter and is present at a meeting of the council or local board at which the matter is the subject of consideration, the member,

(a) shall, prior to any consideration of the matter at the meeting, disclose the interest and the general nature thereof;

(b) shall not take part in the discussion of, or vote on any question in respect of the matter; and

(c) shall not attempt in any way whether before, during or after the meeting to influence the voting on any such question.

In a news release issued on Friday, Coakley is quoted saying, "By voting to shut Prince Philip against the unanimous recommendations of the public committee, instead of a school in her own neighbourhood, and by voting to spend the proceeds of that tragedy in her own immediate neighbourhood, Ms. Bishop did herself a financial favour. That is unethical and illegal."

The Act is enforced through applications from private citizens, not police or prosecutors, and Coakley's allegation has yet to be proven in court.

If a judge determines that a member of a council or board has violated of the Act has occurred, the judge has the discretion to remove the member from office, disqualify the member from running for office for up to seven years, and demand that the member pay restitution to the party who has suffered a financial loss.

Controversial Closure

The decision to close Prince Philip was highly controversial. It emerged during the Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) process that the Board had decided to stop spending money on maintenance for Prince Philip on the basis of faulty capital funding methodology that deemed Prince Philip "prohibitive to repair".

That faulty assessment was what triggered the accommodation review in the first place, but the Board refused to reconsider its policy even after admitting it was an error, despite the recommendation of the committee to keep all three schools open.

Bishop was sharply criticized for her role in defending the Board's actions and decisions around the Prince Philip closure. We Need Three, a community group that organized to try and keep Prince Philip open, accused Bishop of engaging in "an effort to shape public opinion to suit the Board's ends" instead of advocating the community's wishes.

Legal Precedent

In an email response to RTH, Burley explained why his client believes Bishop had a pecuniary interest in the school closure.

Proximity to schools in particular is a significant driver of property values. Trustees framed this vote as one of the schools having to be closed. Once it comes to that, she was facing a choice that has a huge impact on property value. These are two neighborhoods divided by what is essentially an expressway... [sic] There is no sense in which [Prince Philip] is proximate to Westdale (or vice versa).

Burley argued that there is legal precedent for this conflict of interest argument. "Considerable precedent, yes. Jafine v. Mortson is a good example of the many cases on point. ... The issue is the significant property value impact. This gives a trustee a pecuniary interest in the outcome and they must declare that interest and not speak or vote."

In Jafine v. Mortson (1999), a resident of the Town of East Gwillimbury in York Region brought an application against the Mayor of that town, who owned a 100 acre farm close to the proposed route of a Hwy 404 extension. The Mayor participated in two municipal votes supporting the highway extension, which could potentially boost the value of his property, without disclosing a conflict of interest.

The Judge's ruling quoted an earlier ruling in the case of Halton Hills (Town) v. Equity Waste Management of Canada (1995), which stated:

The Act is crystal-clear. It is harsh. It must be. It controls the actions of council members. They are the repositories of the citizens' highest trust. They must at once be strong in their debate to put forward their electorates' concerns; they must always have an ear to the dissent in their voters. They must not only be unshirkingly honest they must be seen to be so-by those who voted for them, and those who voted against them. Their role, though noble in its calling, is demanding in its execution. It is onerous in the extreme.

The Judge in that case ruled that the Mayor did violate Section 5(1) of the Act but that the violation was unintentional, concluding: "that contravention was committed by an error in judgment and accordingly, no statutory consequence or sanction need be imposed."

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

16 Comments

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By jer (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2013 at 07:53:21

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 25, 2013 at 08:26:26 in reply to Comment 86704

Maybe you need to read this again:

The Act is crystal-clear. It is harsh. It must be. It controls the actions of council members. They are the repositories of the citizens' highest trust. They must at once be strong in their debate to put forward their electorates' concerns; they must always have an ear to the dissent in their voters. They must not only be unshirkingly honest they must be seen to be so-by those who voted for them, and those who voted against them. Their role, though noble in its calling, is demanding in its execution. It is onerous in the extreme.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted February 25, 2013 at 08:11:27 in reply to Comment 86704

We'll see.

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted February 25, 2013 at 08:44:57

I hope she gets the boot or the axe or what have you. Her shenanigans have cost the city dearly already but it's never too late to say 'na-na-NA-NA...HEY-HEY-HEY...good BYE!'

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By Cardinal (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2013 at 08:57:15

My prediction, Bishop is found guilty but not ordered to step down because it was inadvertent.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2013 at 09:17:36

How would the board have resolved a tie vote?

"Prince Philip will close its doors at the end of the next school year. With a 6-5 vote, public school board trustees supported shuttering the Ainslie Wood elementary school in June 2013."

http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/706662--prince-philip-school-to-close

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted February 25, 2013 at 10:29:06 in reply to Comment 86715

The Board's Rules for both General Board and Committee meetings provide that "All motions shall be decided by the Board by a simple majority of those present and voting for and against the motion" and that "No member of the Board shall have more than one vote on any question."

A 5-5 vote is not a simple majority, so that particular motion would have failed in both cases.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2013 at 15:40:38

The head of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s finance advisory committee has resigned over a decision by trustees to spend nearly $19 million to upgrade two elementary schools in Westdale.

Flamborough trustee Karen Turkstra said the plan is unfair to other projects – including the planned renovation of Highland Secondary School in Dundas – and she especially objects to spending $10.3 million to fix up Dalewood when it has just 367 students and the cost of a new school would likely be half that amount.

She unsuccessfully pushed last week for the upgrades to Dalewood and G. R. Allan schools – part of an accommodation review (ARC) that will close Prince Philip school – to be referred back to staff for more study, a bid that lost on a 6-5 vote.

“It just doesn’t make any fiscal sense to me, and as a taxpayer I would be upset about this,” said Turkstra, who has an extensive background in financial management.

“We’ve gone through an extremely emotional ARC process and some decisions were made. I think once those decisions are costed, then you need a review of the decision,” she said.

“If I say I’m going to renovate my house and it comes in at twice as much as I can afford, then I’m not going to renovate my house.”


http://www.flamboroughreview.com/news/flamborough-trustee-resigns-from-committee

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2013 at 22:15:54

I remember Mark from his lawyering days...seems he hasn't lost his edge.

Your move, School Board...

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By TnT (registered) | Posted February 25, 2013 at 22:27:06

Wow, just wow. This was found without very much digging. Imagine if Ward 3 had the resources what could be brought to bear against Bernie Morelli and Tim Simmons for the Sandford Shame.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 25, 2013 at 22:53:10 in reply to Comment 86759

The only resources involved here is the time commitment of a small group of people. Something I'm sure ward 3 could manage if they have the will.

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 08:17:40 in reply to Comment 86763

There are many of us who have the will. Much has been written published and presented only to have been marginalized and ignored by our elected offcials. When Simmons comes out with this quote what can yo do until 2014?

In fact, Simmons admits, the board never made the building available to private buyers — it isn’t obligated to.

“It’s our property,” said the chair. “Even if we do offer something up to the private sector, we don’t have to sell it to them. It’s our choice at the end of the day.”

When he says it's our property he sure doesn't mean the taxpayers!

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 08:28:29 in reply to Comment 86783

Another Simmons' quote from today's Spectator http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/893361--no-saving-sanford-school-as-wrecking-ball-swings-this-month

"He also said the board consulted extensively with the school community to determine the best use of the space. And, as recently as last fall, Cathy Wever held a community forum so members of the public could come forward to voice concerns."


The facts do not support his statement and those of Chris Murray the City Manager. See the following posts.

http://www.thehamiltonian.net/2013/01/was-there-proper-community-consultation.html#comment-form

http://www.thehamiltonian.net/2013/02/sanford-school-demolition-consultation.html

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 07:58:55

Re: Why allow home and cell phone expenses?, Feb. 14.

Spending by some school board trustees is out of control. There is no reason why taxpayers should reimburse a trustee for both a home phone and cell phone and no reason why we should pay for their internet surfing.

The original article by Richard Leitner pointed out that Ward 11 and 12 trustee Alex Johnstone and Ward 13′s Jessica Brennan claimed low amounts of expenses, putting them on the “frugality list.” The article did not mention that Ward 1 and 2 trustee Judith Bishop is near the top of the big-spenders list.

A visit to the board’s website shows Ms. Bishop is the third-biggest spender of trustees, claiming $10,922.38 from the taxpayer since 2010. Ms. Bishop has claimed 22 per cent more in expenses than the average trustee.

I applaud trustees Johnstone and Brennan for respect shown to local taxpayers. Ms. Bishop should follow their example and get off the gravy train.

Mark Coakley, Hamilton

http://www.hamiltonnews.com/opinion/trustees-must-show-respect/

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By real life (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 08:16:06 in reply to Comment 86778

This is the kind of crap that needs to be dealt with before we start talking about casinos, stadia and other useless distractions.

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By View Reader (anonymous) | Posted March 07, 2013 at 13:03:22

See related article by Mark Coakley at http://www.viewmag.com/14684-Mega-Schools+Hurt.htm

Judith Bishop must go!

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