Saturday, September 22, 2007

Trustees Can't Speak

Today I was contacted by the Edmonton Sun to comment on the responsibility of school boards to screen community users of schools, in response to the charges being laid against a man teaching Tae Kwon Do out of Meadowlark School. The Board Chair and Trustee Don Williams had already been contacted for comment and the writer had found it frustrating that no one would give a "straight answer." Because I'm not a trustee, I was free to comment.

In reviewing the Code of Ethics for Trustees, there are a number of limitations concerning when, how and what a trustee may say. I will be seeking advice on this as I'm still uncertain where the line is and why it is there in the first place. As an elected official, doesn't your constituency deserve to know where you stand on issues not just what the board decision is? How can we balance the need to govern effectively and provide clear messages to the public (and avoid legal consequences), with the democratic obligations to be held accountable to the constituents and the personal right to freedom of speech?

I'm sure I'm going to put my foot in it a few times, but it seems to me if we want true communication between trustees and the public and if we want the trustees to effectively advocate for public education, we need to remove some of these gag orders and allow trustees to speak as an individuals. Currently, a trustee acting independently has "no authority above an ordinary citizen." Does no authority to make decisions or implement policy necessitate no voice? Are we taking the intent of the code and applying it in a broad-based way that hampers the fundamental roles and responsibilities of the trustee?

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