Advice to New Trustees: The O'Malley Case

I'm Re-posting a blog post by former EPSB Trustee Sue Huff -- Advice to new Trustees- the O'Malley case
Date: May 16, 2010 at 7:47:00 PM MDT
Reply-To: Sue Huff <>

Advice to new Trustees- the O'Malley case

On Saturday, I attended a "mixer" for new trustee candidates. It was hosted by ARTES  and was very well-attended. Trustee Catherine Ripley, Councillor Ben Henderson, former Leader of the NDP, former MLA and former EPSB Trustee Ray Martin, former MLA Weslyn Mather and a host of trustee candidates were in the room: Michael Janz (running in Ward F), Sarah Hoffman(running in Ward G), Heather MacKenzie (running in Ward G), Tina Jardine (running in Ward I), Sarah King (running in Ward E), Cheryl Johner (running in Ward A) Patricia Grell (running in the Catholic ward that includes Woodcroft) and a few others who are "thinking about it" including Laurie Simpson, who is considering running in Ward C (scroll down to comments and Laurie has a long post here on school closures).

Dale Hudjik gave a quick overview of the aims of ARTES and why they were hosting this gathering. He spoke a bit about governance and then turned the mic over to Ray Martin, who emphasized the importance of the Board of Trustees being distinct from its administration, rather than an extension of it. He spoke about his experience as a trustee with EPSB and fielded some questions. He emphasized that trustees are politicians.

It was a great evening, with lots of energy in the room and I enjoyed connecting with new trustee candidates: I have many coffee dates lined up to continue the conversation and provide some advice.

This article is quite helpful in understanding some of the duties and obligations of the trustee, to act in an ethical manner regarding confidentiality and conflict of interest:

One piece of advice I would extend to new candidates is familiarize yourself with the O'Malley case (see #2 in above article- Conflict of Interest).  Mr. O'Malley was a trustee with the Calgary Separate Board who took the unusual step of initiating a lawsuit against his own Board and was subsequently removed from the Board. The case is of interest because of the court's ruling on the  fiduciary duty of a trustee.

To quote from the judge who ruled on the O'Malley case:
..Mr. O’Malley had a misguided understanding of to whom his fiduciary duties are owed...Mr. O’Malley wrongly believes that his duties are owed only to the people that voted for him...the fiduciaryduties are owed to the corporate body (the Board) which is, in turn, accountable to the Catholic ownership.” [para 109 - 110] (emphasis mine)

Whenever I have seen this quote, the last 9 words have been deleted. Without the accountability phrase, you might assume that trustees' ONE and ONLY fiduciary duty is to the Board and that they therefore have NO  or LITTLE duty (accountability) to the public. The idea of a duty of care to the Board (and District) may at times appear to be in direct conflict with the wishes of one's electorate and if the idea of accountability to the public is not fully understood, new trustees, in particular, may be confused. I think when you read the entire phrase (and also understand the extreme measures that Mr. O'Malley took in trying to stop his Board from passing its budget, etc.), you arrive at a more well-rounded perspective.

In my view, there is nothing in the O'Malley case that would indicate that trustees should not (a) represent the views of their electorate (b) debate vigourously (c) disagree with their colleagues or offer different points of view and (d) consider themselves to be politicians. (Minister Hancock- please correct me if I'm wrong.)

In fact, this article  would seem to agree with me:
"However, do not assume from these cases that Trustees have no voice or right to object vigorously.

Courts have stated elected representatives can form views and opinions and declare themselves on issues of public interest. They have gone so far as to say:

“Elected officials are and should be entitled to maintain and forcefully to express their views without fear of disqualification or unwarranted interference by the courts. In this case, however, any reasonably well-informed person acquainted with the facts would inevitably conclude, as Justice McMahon did, that Mr. O’Malley, by attacking the validity of core governance policies through the courts, has a personal conflict of interest...that likely would preclude him from bringing an unbiased mind to the performance of his Board responsibilities.” (O’Malley decision, paragraph 104, page 23)

“Mr. O’Malley had a shared public duty to advance the work of the Board, which included deliberating on and passing a yearly budget. Yet he tried to halt the Board’s budget work, thus putting his private interest in conflict with his shared public duty to carry out the responsibilities and work of the Board...trustees collectively and individually owe a public duty to carry out their responsibilities and the work of the Board in good faith and with reasonable diligence. They are elected for that purpose. They need not be of like mind. They may hold strong conflicting views. They may debate with vigour, and occasionally with rancour. There is no rule requiring trustees to like each other. But they do have one overarching responsibility -- a shared public duty to advance the work of the Board to which they had the privilege of being elected. A trustee who chooses to personally engage his Board in litigation concerning the Board’s fundamental operations places a private interest ahead of a public duty...A trustee who cannot in good conscience continue to perform that duty has a choice. He can resign his position and regain the elector’s right to challenge the Board in court. What he cannot do is remain and abandon his public duty to advance his private interest. He is unable, in those circumstances, to bring an unbiased mind to the performance of his public duty.” (Emphasis added)

Perhaps you see it differently, but, as far as I'm concerned, there is nothing in the O'Malley case that should stop a trustee from representing their electorate in their decisions, while balancing the needs of the entire District and preserving public education as a public good.

I've highlighted the above passage about being "free to express their views without fear of  disqualification or unwarranted interference" because another case is also of note for new trustees: the instance where the Calgary Public Board was disbanded by the Minister of Education for being 'dysfunctional'. In this case, the in-fighting between board members seemed to be getting in the way of getting the job done. What exactly defines "dysfunction" is open to individual interpretation and without clear guidelines, it can breed a sense of discomfort about any sign of public disagreement. It can be used to justify conducting a great deal of work behind closed doors, in order to "smooth out any rough edges" before things appear in public. Perhaps the new School Act will articulate some clear expectations or guidelines in this area.  It would certainly help new trustees feel confident in their role, if they could understand what constitutes "dysfunction" and also how their fudiciary duty to the Board intersects with (or complements?) their duty to represent the public who have elected them.

Public School Boards must intervene in the Theodore court case

The Theodore case is one of the most important educational court cases in Canadian history. The Theodore case is clearly applicable to Alberta, as both Alberta and Saskatchewan are governed by the same legislation. This is significantly different from the Catholic trustees intervening in the Trinity Case for reasons outlined here. Spending money on a legal challenge is not something we take lightly. I believe as a community we should be very proud of our public schools and as a community must exhaust any means necessary-- including litigation-- to stand up for the right of our students, staff and families....

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Fairness & Equity for Public Schools

On March 21st, 2017, the Edmonton Public School Board board unanimously passed the following motion:

Be it resolved that the Edmonton Public School Board advocate to the Government of Alberta to develop a framework to ensure Public schools get a fair and equitable share of schools, modernizations, portables, and capital project spending. 

As background:

  1. All schools, portables modernizations, and capital funding to Public and Catholic schools are awarded by the provincial government (Education Minister).
  2. We lack transparent policy from the provincial government how schools are prioritized and awarded between different school districts.
  3. Public students and families across Alberta– especially in Edmonton– need their fair and equitable share of capital funding– especially for new schools
  4. Despite only 25% of Albertans being Catholic, the government appears to provide them an unfair and inequitable amount of school dollars, sometimes between 30-50%.
  5. Fairness and equity in transparent, defensible provincial decision-making would prevent unreasonably advantaging one group over another.

Depending on the years, the inequity might be worse. For example, looking at modernizations in 2006: 36% of the funding went to the Catholic District while 64% went to the Public District....

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Survey Response: David Staples, Edmonton Journal Columnist

On October 4th, Edmonton Journal Columnist David Staples sent Trustee Candidates an email letting us know that he would be endorsing candidates in his opinion columns this week. As an opinion columnist he has the freedom to write endorsements and write articles as he pleases. As there are 40+ trustee candidates and he only has a 600 word column, I thought it would be helpful to share my responses to his questions here.
I would like to hear your feedback. Did I miss something? Is there something you would like to share with me that I should supplement on my page? All constituent feedback is valuable, whether you are a student, parent, or Edmonton Journal columnist and I appreciate hearing from you.

Here were the themes of his questions which I have answered below:
1. Math education?
2. Provincial exams?
3. Grade 3 provincial exams?
4. New curriculum rewrite?
5. To what do you attribute Alberta’s success in PISA exams?
6. Do you support public subsidies for private schools?
7. Social studies 
8. Process for developing new curriculum?
9. Support for open boundaries?
(The full text of his questions are below my responses)
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Edmonton Election Advance Voting Oct 4, 2017 — Ward F

The 2017 Edmonton municipal election is being held on Monday October 16th, 2017 from 9AM to 7PM. If you are unable to vote on the October 16th, there will be advanced voting held on Wednesday, October 4th. To find where to vote you can use the Where to vote tool available on the website. 

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What I'm hearing about Inclusion

As I started door knocking in May for my public trustee re-election campaign, one of the most frequent questions I received from teachers and parents (whether they had special needs students in their family or not) was: what do I think of changes to classroom composition?

When I decided to become a trustee candidate in 2010, I took the time to pen out my vision and values. Many of my beliefs and values surrounding public education were honed by researching for the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta and serving as the President of the Students’ Union at the University of Alberta. Both experiences grounded my vision and values in a belief in a strong public education system guided by the wishes of the community to ensure all voices are heard and every student can succeed....

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Southwest Edmonton Needs New Public Elementary, Junior and High Schools

Southwest Edmonton Needs New Public Elementary, Junior and High Schools

Since I was first elected school trustee in 2010, advocating for the construction of new K-9 and High Schools— especially for the Southwest— has been a top priority.  However, the responsibility for allocating new schools falls solely in the hands of the Provincial Government — not the school board or the city council. This has been the case since 1994, and it is important for you to know the board of trustees are exhausting every single opportunity advocate for new schools, and to make sure public school families get their fair share. Edmonton Public school families are competing for their fair share of school construction money against not only against Calgary and other rural Alberta communities but publicly-funded Catholic and Francophone schools as well. Your voice can help....

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Hello, Bonjour, Guten Tag, Nǐ Hǎo… Second language instruction in Edmonton Public Schools

When it comes to public education, Edmontonians speak with many voices. Over the past few months of door-knocking, I’ve had thousands of conversations about everything imaginable. Overwhelmingly, people have wanted to tell me about the important relationship between their school and their community, but I’ve also heard about school fees, the future of textbooks, and everything in between!

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Partnership in Action: EPSB Kindergarten students to receive free EPL cards!

As many readers know I’m a passionate supporter of EPL and a former 6 year Edmonton Public Library Trustee. So you can likely imagine my reaction to this exciting collaboration between EPL and EPSB!

I’m overjoyed by the fact that we are working together to improve early literacy and help even more kindergarten kids get free library cards!


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About Michael

Michael has been your Public School Trustee since 2010, serving as Chair from 2015-2017. Michael lives in Ward F (Strathcona).

Ward F, Michael Janz - What strengths and experience do I bring as Trustee?

Beyond his work as Trustee, Michael is a father of a future EPSB student and has been proud to serve our community in several other capacities:

  • Manager with Boys and Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters Edmonton
  • Former Marketing Director for the Edmonton
  • Federation of Community Leagues
  • Masters in Education Policy Studies from the University of Alberta
  • Avenue Magazine 2012 “Top 40 Under 40"
  • Served as President of the University of Alberta Students’ Union
  • Six year Trustee, Edmonton Public Library Board

Ward F, Michael Janz - Why do I want to be re-elected Trustee?

Michael will Continue to Champion:

  • New school construction, prioritizing a new high
  • school for the Southwest
  • Equity and fairness for all students including: special needs learners; English language learners; and gifted and talented learners
  • Support for vulnerable families through safe, caring, welcoming schools for all students
  • Expanding programs of choice and increasing opportunities for students and their families
  • Financial literacy and post-secondary transitions
  • Improving academic achievement, high school completion rates, and access to career pathways
  • Focusing education spending on the classroom in support of teachers and school staff

Ward F, Michael Janz - How will I continue to advance my goals for the next three years?

Support our campaign by hosting a lawn sign, making a donation or volunteering:

Ward F, Michael Janz - What are the three most important challenges facing public education? 



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