A week after accepting the resignation of trustee Nancy Elgie amid an uproar over her use of a racial slur, the troubled York Region District School Board is now wrestling with how to fill her vacant seat.
A staff report discussed at a committee meeting Monday looked at the costly prospect of holding a byelection versus appointing a candidate to fill the Georgina seat that had been held by Elgie since 2000.
Elgie resigned on Feb. 17 following months of controversy over using the word n----- to refer to a black parent after a public meeting in November. In a speech posted on YouTube, the 82-year-old Elgie said she “made a terrible mistake” and was “truly sorry for the pain my words have caused.”
She blamed a head injury for causing her to confuse her words.
The staff report pegs the cost of a byelection, which would be held by the Town of Georgina, at almost $300,000. If the board opts for the appointment process, this could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $60,000 if they use a consultant to help.
But no matter how the new trustee is chosen, their tenure would be short-lived. The next municipal and school board election is the fall of 2018.
These are some of the points that will be under consideration when the trustees decide what option to pursue at the next meeting on March 7, said Loralea Carruthers, the new chair of the board.
“While it may appear that the byelection is the easiest option, it is important that trustees engage in an open and transparent discussion that considers all the implications for both options afforded to us in the Education Act, including cost and the length of time the process would take, given there will be another trustee election in 2018,” said Carruthers.
“What I can assure the public, particularly residents of Georgina, is that the decision will be made in an open and transparent manner that is fair to them,” she said.
It’s also hard to predict if voters will turn out for a byelection. In 2014, the voter turnout in Georgina was around 39 per cent. Elgie won 52 per cent of the vote with 5,600 votes, while the runner-up got nearly 4,500 votes.
Since 1991, there have been six times when the board filled a vacancy, after trustees passed away, or trustees were elected to another public office. Most of those were filled through the appointment process.
Former trustee Joel Hertz, said he was appointed to the post in 2005, describing it as “kind of like applying for a job.”
The position was advertised in the local media, and applicants had to submit their interest in writing, he said. He was then invited to a meeting before trustees “where you had to do a speech,” Hertz said adding that at the time, there were 10 candidates gunning for the job.
“The critical question always is how close is it to the next the election, and how much money you want to spend?” he said.
He thinks that “in light of only a year and half to go, they should do an appointment.”
He notes it’s also the cheaper option, as it doesn’t require candidates to engage in expensive campaigning. “You don’t have to spend money to convince the electorate, you only have to convince the trustees.”
If the board opts to appoint a replacement for Elgie, the vacancy will be filled by May 19. The earliest possible date the vacancy can be filled through a byelection would be May 23.
On Monday, the committee also discussed the long-promised process for putting in an integrity commissioner.
“It has recently been identified that there is an opportunity to make adjustments to the Trustee Code of Conduct to clarify the process by which concerns with regard to the conduct of publicly elected officials are addressed,” says the staff report.
“The creation of an Independent Office of the Integrity Commissioner will ensure concerns raised with regard to the conduct of a trustee are addressed in a consistent, fair and transparent manner including matters related to the conduct of the director,” it says.
In a statement posted online, Carruthers also said an integrity commissioner, “would allow anyone, including members of the public, to directly bring forward concerns related to trustees in a manner that is fair and transparent.”
The board says it will create an advisory committee to research best practices and come up with recommendations.
It’s unclear how much an integrity commissioner will cost the board.
Ongoing issues at the York board and accusations that it ignored incidents of racism and Islamophobia, as well as questions about trustee spending and conduct, prompted the provincial government to send in two investigators. They are expected to issue a report in April.
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