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2014 Municipal Election: T.O. District School Board & Catholic School Board Trustee

W. K. Lis

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From The Star, at this link:

Trustees tampered with FOI request for expense reports, emails suggest

Freedom of information officer Maria Mavroyannis was alarmed by the “interference†she experienced in trying to release trustee expense documents .


Toronto trustees and senior staff interfered and tampered with documents related to trustee expenses requested by the Toronto Star, say emails sent by the board’s own freedom of information officer.

Maria Mavroyannis, a lawyer herself, was so concerned by the “clear interference in my ability to carry out the FOI request responsibly†that her emails say she sought outside legal help to ensure “we have discharged our duties responsibly†given the “misinformation being provided … and given evident trustee tampering.â€

The Star obtained these emails following a freedom of information request, or FOI, to the Toronto District School Board seeking copies of correspondence between Mavroyannis, the board’s executive officer of governance, and director of education Donna Quan.

Much of the document released to the Star was blacked out, including the identity of the trustees and board staff. The Star is appealing the decision to censor the names and will, via an appeal, ask Ontario’s privacy commissioner’s office to investigate alleged tampering.

Quan said in an email to the Star that “following recent (board) audits, stronger processes for trustee expenses and freedom of information requests have been put in place over the last year and we have focused on staff training and understanding of both.

“I am confident that these processes have been followed.â€

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The original FOI request for the audit, which documented questionable spending by trustees including a trip to Israel and billing taxpayers for overnight stays at a downtown Toronto hotel during a conference, created turmoil behind the scenes at the board, the emails show.

“I am seriously concerned about the integrity of the FOI process given the sudden confusion and misinformation being provided … and given evident trustee tampering … the version (of the audit) below is entirely inconsistent with the discussions we have had and deliberately obfuscates what information has been changed in the reports and undermines the credibility on the completeness of the information being provided to requestors,†said an August email sent by Mavroyannis.

Michel Drapeau, a lawyer, professor and author of several works on information requests, said “if ever there has been a ‘smoking gun’ in an (FOI) request records, you found it … The exchange of records illustrate better than anything I have seen in the recent past about the increasing level of ‘impotence’ of the FOI process which is victim to the open defiance, self-importance and arrogance of individuals who place their interests ahead of the public interest and their fiduciary duties,†he said.

The “very obvious and repeated attempts to obfuscate and frustrate the ‘right to know’ of the public … goes totally against the accepted Canadian-wide concept of the rule of law.â€

He praised Mavroyannis, saying “she clearly comes across as a true and honest public servant doing her best to uphold the law (and) provide a ‘service’ to the public.â€

Ottawa University professor Amir Attaran, an expert in FOI requests who suggested asking the privacy commissioner to investigate, said that if tampering is confirmed, any staff involved should be fired.

Mavroyannis, in an email to one individual whose name was blacked out, said that “at the Tuesday meeting this week, you indicated that you had made changes to …(the expense audit) based upon discussions†with someone whose name is also blacked out.

“Yesterday at the meeting with the director, you indicated that there was yet another version of the trustee report containing changes, and there were many more changes to be made.â€

Another email adds: “We cannot alter files that are the subject of an FOI. I have repeatedly said that. This constant flip-flopping detracts from the credibility of the integrity of the information being provided, and the independence of the FOI process … this process should not be interfered with …â€

She went on to say that “throughout this file, I have seen trustees and staff discuss the information to be provided, and provide opinion for matters for which they are not responsible. There has been clear interference in my ability to carry out the FOI request responsibly.â€

Drapeau said trustees should not have been told about the FOI expense audit request at all, and that trustees cannot ask to “correct a record.â€

“This is tampering with a record,†he added. “If you need to correct a record you produce a new version of a record and leave the original safe and intact.â€

Mavroyannis’ emails refer to at least three versions.

While the freedom of information act doesn’t specifically deal with tampering or destruction of records, Drapeau said “it is an offence to obstruct the commissioner during its investigation of a complaint.â€

The unredacted portions of the emails do not name any staff or trustees who are alleged to have tampered with or interfered with the FOI process.

Chair Mari Rutka said trustees did discuss the FOI request for the audit report, but would not say when or if it was during a private meeting. She said they have been seeking more “clarity†around the FOI process.

“I think one of the concerns that trustees had around the information that’s already come out is that the context of it be explained,†she said. “The initial documents that went out to the Star were draft documents that contained errors, and contained items that were flagged†and trustees were concerned their explanations for those items would not be included.

Trustee Shelley Laskin said her portion of the expense audit, released to the Star and CTV, mistakenly contained censored information and that she did not ask staff, at any time, to do such censoring.

She said she did, however, ask which version of the report would be released, given she’d seen two last April, which was two months before the Star’s FOI request was submitted.

“Did I seek clarification of what would be released? Absolutely. Did I question the release of working documents which can be exempt? Absolutely. Were there a series of emails from me to staff to clarify which version of the working papers would be released. Absolutely.â€

Laskin, who is familiar with the FOI process from her previous job with an Ontario government ministry, said most trustees are not aware of the process and need to be better informed about their obligations under the law.

I think that ◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎ ◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎ ◼︎ ◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎◼︎ ◼︎◼︎. Those are my own feelings at least.
 

mjl08

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Apparently things are getting nasty at the Trinity Spadina TDSB debates towards Muslim candidate Ausma Malik

Jonathan Goldsbie @goldsbie
Sample of Qs tonight: #tdsb RT @andrewbrett: Whether she would introduce Islam into classrooms, whether she supports terrorism, the usual.



And from last night:

Kate Hammer ‏@KatieHammer
During closing remarks some members of the audience heckled Malik, accusing her of lies, supporting Hezbollah and racism #tdsb

Kate Hammer ‏@KatieHammer
Malik's team expressed concern that the hecklers appeared to be waiting for her at the school entrance. She left through a back door. #tdsb

Andrew Brett ‏@andrewbrett
So a gang of angry white men waited outside a debate for a woman of colour candidate, forcing her to use the back door. Toronto. 2014.
 

adma

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Not to cast aspersions, but are any of them recognizable FN howler monkeys?
 

StatGeek

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SueAnn/Sewer Levy is really the mainstream person I've seen mostly fanning the flames of hate.

I have no idea why this troll gets any media appearances at all.
 

James

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It's incidents like these that remind us that who you vote into the school board trustee position is very important and shouldn't be overlooked.

http://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/..._cookies_to_4000_walking_tours_of_israel.html

Toronto trustees expense everything from $28 cookies to $4,000 walking tours of Israel
Documents reveal how Toronto District School Board trustees have been spending taxpayer dollars.

Trustee Elizabeth Moyer charged taxpayers “frequent purchases at Starbucks and fast-food restaurants” that aren’t properly documented, according to an internal audit that highlighted questionable expenditures filed by several officials.

By: Kristin Rushowy Education Reporter, Published on Mon Sep 15 2014

Toronto public school board trustees have charged taxpayers for everything from $19 worth of groceries — including nuts and hand lotion — to a tour of Israel that cost almost $4,000.

An internal audit of questionable expenditures filed by Toronto District School Board elected officials, obtained by the Star, includes scores of reimbursed claims that are not allowed or for which it is “unclear” as to how they relate to the job of trustee:
Gerri Gershon: a $22.82 floor mat, “frequent meal claims,” and a book at the airport. The veteran trustee charged a $3,765 tour of Israel, explaining to the Star that the trip was to promote interfaith relations after one of her schools came under fire for providing space for Muslim prayers. She said she “Tweeted the entire trip.”

Howard Kaplan: groceries, including lotion and nuts, and a $25 clock radio for his office. He told the Star he has “no idea what the nuts are,” and that the lotion is at his board office because his hands get “red and chapped, especially in the winter.” He said he made an error in filing that and offered to pay back the amount, but was told not to bother.

John Hastings: a $205 aerial tour of the oilsands in Alberta, which he explained as part of his ongoing interest in promoting the trades to students. The tour was part of his trip to the west coast for a conference, where he booked and paid for two rooms in Whistler, B.C. — which he said was in case the reservation on the first room fell through. He booked another room in Richmond, B.C., to hold meetings with “key personnel” before heading to Calgary.

Mari Rutka: purchased an iMac Air computer for $1,771.11, complaining the Dell purchased under board contract, as required by spending policies to keep costs down, kept breaking down and was too heavy for her to carry around.

Elizabeth Moyer: charged taxpayers “frequent purchases at Starbucks and fast-food restaurants … also regular early morning meetings on weekends” that aren’t properly documented, which she explained are meetings with constituents. She also charged $11.30 for chocolate bars and purchased “numerous TTC tokens” without reasons provided, and claimed 265 kilometres for a 76-kilometre trip to the airport. “This claim was questioned by the accounting department and approved based on the explanation given,” she told the Star.

Moyer also claimed “numerous downtown Toronto parking expenses were claimed … the parking locations appear to be near Moyer’s place of employment,” the audit says. Moyer’s explanation: “In discussion with finance staff, they agreed that the TDSB policy was to choose the lowest cost option. Parking near my office was cheaper than taking a cab to these meetings, and finance approved based on this discussion.”

Several trustees, including Hastings, Moyer, Gershon and Shelley Laskin have racked up tens of thousands of dollars for out-of-town conferences. They also charged taxpayers to stay in a downtown Toronto hotel for a conference, when they all live in the city — Laskin just 7 kilometres away.

Trustee Howard Goodman, who has insisted on accountability and transparency at the board, refused to allow his information in the audit to be released. However, when approached by the Star, he provided his portion of the audit. Little was questioned, other than conferences he attended as part of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, for which he said he did not need prior approval.

Some portions of the report, obtained through a freedom of information request, are redacted, a decision the Star is appealing with Ontario’s privacy commissioner.

Trustees contacted by the Star said some of the expenses were approved by the chair of the board or staff who should have told them if they were ineligible, or that the rules were unclear.

However, after Toronto Catholic trustees were excoriated years ago for spending abuses — including a sun lamp and lingerie — there has been a heightened awareness about what expenses are eligible and appropriate.

Several trustees bought gift cards or even a CD for parent council members or guest speakers, which they also billed taxpayers for.

A new spending policy was brought in last May. However, unlike their Catholic counterparts, Toronto public trustees still don’t post their expenses online, with receipts. They voted last Friday to post expenses online in broader categories, with trustees Sam Sotiropoulos, Harout Manougian, Sheila Cary-Meagher, Jerry Chadwick, Pam Gough and Shaun Chen unsuccessfully pushing for more details to be published.

Kaplan, when questioned about his expenses, which included a desk lamp and the clock radio, wondered why the matter was newsworthy.

“It was three years ago and so picayune, ” said Kaplan. “It was on a bill with other purchases, I submitted them all together and they got in there by mistake.”

He added “my God, it’s not even a rounding error in a $3-billion budget. You are going to waste ink on something that costs less than $20? . . . If anyone wants to complain about $20, then I’m happy to donate it. It’s nickel-and-diming, really.”

Recurring problems included high hourly wages for constituency assistants, meals without proper receipts or details, and mileage claims that don’t match distances using online map. Other trustees expensed mileage for meetings they weren’t recorded as attending. Trustees were also cited many times for not seeking pre-approval for purchases over $500, as is required.

Education Director Donna Quan said the audit was a chance for the board to look at financial controls, and “I think the findings clearly indicate that we have some process control matters to deal with” and that trustees need to be trained as to the rules on spending.

“We have to have the courage to call the question and to challenge when we know that maybe a policy or procedure is not followed or not as strong in place as it could be,” she said.

She said policies and procedures now are far more clear, “and we are more aware that trustees needed professional development on it.”

Trustees each have $27,000 to spend each year, a limit most trustees abided by.

“These are public funds, and how we spend those funds must be help up to a high level of scrutiny,” Quan added.

Three trustees expensed alcohol — Moyer, David Smith and former chair Chris Bolton — with Bolton saying his bill was at a restaurant in China and the alcohol was mistakenly included. He also billed $28 for what the audit described as a cookie, but he said includes food ordered during the crisis when former director Chris Spence was resigning from the board after he admitting to plagiarism.

Moyer said she is embarrassed by the alcohol claim, which is ineligible, and has repaid it.

Trustee Stephnie Payne spent $4,216 mostly on courier costs to deliver ward newsletters, when the board average is $327. She also spent $2,527 in cabs.

Trustee Irene Atkinson paid guest speakers $1,000 an hour and expensed a $250 parking ticket, which she told the Star she won’t repay.

Long-distance phone bills and international roaming charges were also an issue previously reported by the Star — with some trustees, including David Smith, making calls during the Christmas or summer break without any obvious link to board business.
Smith also had roaming charges in excess of $2,000.

Trustee Sheila Ward expensed $2,000 of Joomla website training for her assistant.
 

Videodrome

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adma

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Also, Liz Moyer going down.

Funny how all the critical turnover dynamic's in the trustee seats; maybe (Mikey aside) voters who *bother* to engage are engaged enough to clean house, while the rest just leave a blank...
 

Videodrome

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Sam Sotiropoulos @TrusteeSam
Stay tuned, folks. I'm writing a tell-all of my experiences as a Trustee at the #TDSB. Lots of tasty tidbits, along with some real feces...

It should sell a few dozen copies!
 

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