Larry Killens banished from Rainbow District board meetings

Larry Killens

SUDBURY—Manitoulin’s voice at the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) table has been significantly muted following a board motion that banned elected Manitoulin Trustee Larry Killens from future meetings from the board and its committees. The news has a number of Island electors well up in arms and a town meeting scheduled for 7 pm to 9 pm on Wednesday, July 25 at the upstairs hall of the Mindemoya Community Hall has been set up by Jason Chandler to delve into the issue.

Mr. Chandler has invited Mr. Killens, RDSB Chair Doreen Dewar and RDSB Education Director Norm Blaseg to the town hall meeting. As of press time Monday Mr. Chandler said that he had not received a response from the board. “But since I only sent out the invitation on Friday, I am not surprised that I have not heard anything back from the RDSB yet,” he said.

Trustee Killens was uncharacteristically reticent to comment when contacted about the ban by The Expositor. “I want to take a couple of weeks to digest all this before I comment,” he said.

Mr. Chandler said he decided to set up the town hall meeting after discovering that Mr. Killens had been banned from board meetings.

The motion passed by the board at the Tuesday, July 3 meeting of the RDSB board of trustees was as follows: “That Trustee Larry Killens be censured for inappropriate interactions with outside individuals to encourage and/or facilitate litigations against the Board, undermining decisions of the Board, sharing confidential information and making false and disparaging comments about staff and members of the Board.

“That considering that this is Trustee Killens’ sixth sanction for violating the Code of Conduct, that, employing progressive discipline, he be sanctioned and barred from attendance at all meetings of the Board effective immediately until November 30, 2018.”

“We need to get to the bottom of this,” said Mr. Chandler, who noted that he has had his own struggles with the board in dealing with an issue involving a youth, which, while that issue came to a “favourable conclusion,” he had found the whole process difficult and frustrating.

“They don’t like to answer questions,” he said of his interactions with the RDSB.

Mr. Chandler said that Mr. Killens was the only contact that acknowledged receipt of his concerns on that earlier issue when first contacted. “I sent emails to the principal, the superintendent, the education director and the chair,” he said. Larry was the only one to reply to say he had received my concerns.” Asked whether Mr. Killens was helpful in that instance, Mr. Chandler replied “as much as he was able. As far as I am concerned, he didn’t cross a line.”

Mr. Chandler said that he believed that in camera meetings “are the first tool in the toolbox of this board. They claim something is sensitive information or identifies an individual and then come out of the closed meeting to pass a motion with no discussion or debate allowed. There needs to be accountability and transparency.”

Mr. Chandler said that he believes there needs to be more oversight and control exercised by the Ministry of Education. “I think that’s the best tactic,” he said.

Since announcing the meeting, Mr. Chandler said that he has heard from a number of parents who have their own issues in dealing with the board.

Mr. Chandler said he views the board’s actions in banning Mr. Killens as being an indication that the RDSB board is frustrated with Larry (Killens) himself, but one that he believes is outside of the board’s mandate and powers. “I don’t believe they are allowed to do that,” he said. Mr. Chandler said that, due to his previous tussle with the RDSB, he has become something of an expert in the relevant legislation. “It was quite the learning curve,” he said, referring to the labyrinth of bureaucratic language contained in those documents he needed to interpret and navigate in dealing with that earlier issue.

“We need to have our questions answered,” he said.  “I would like to see as many parents out as possible.”

Asked if he was considering running for the RDSB trustee position himself, Mr. Chandler laughed and replied with a definitive “no.”

“I think it is a thankless job,” he said. “I think of the number of times that Larry has done what he has on behalf of the people who elected him. He works for the people, not for the board. I hope that whoever does run is for the people.”

Former Billings Councillor Kim Bilbija said that she was outraged by the RDSB banning of the Manitoulin trustee and had spent considerable time pouring over legislation and regulations herself in the matter. “I don’t believe what was done to Larry is in any shape or way allowed,” she said. “My concern is that Larry is our elected representative. By banning him from any further meetings they are cutting off our elected voice.”

Ms. Bilbija said that when she called the RDSB to gain further information she was asked “are you with the press.” She noted that a return call that was left as a voicemail message by RDSB chair Dewar informed her that Larry Killens was still the area’s elected representative, but that all trustees work on behalf of the entirety RDSB region and that she, or parents, could contact any member of the RDSB with their problems or concerns. Ms. Bilbija said that she wanted a written response to her concern. “I have the recording of the message, but I would like a written response.”

“Over the weekend I printed out the entire Code of Conduct for the RDSB from their website,” she said. “I went through it line by line.” She has since sent her questions and concerns on to Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha and RDSB administration and board. “I sent it out to 25 people. If I have read it right, the board can ban someone from a committee meeting for a specified time, but not board meetings.”

She is referring to section 13.1 “If the Board determines that the trustee has breached the Board’s Code of Conduct, the Board may impose one or more of the following sanctions: a) Censure of the trustee. b) Barring one or more committees of the Board, the trustee from attending all or part of a meeting of the Board or a meeting of a committee of the Board. c) Barring the member from sitting for the period of time specified by the Board.”

In a statement sent to media on behalf of the board chair, Ms. Dewar notes that “Rainbow District School Board is governed by the Education Act and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. As elected officials, we have a legal and moral obligation to ensure that we comply with this legislation.

“As per the Education Act, we have adopted Board Policy No. GOV-05 – the Code of Conduct for Board members.

“This governance policy guides the actions of Board members/trustees of Rainbow District School Board as they carry out their duties as described in the Education Act, regulations, and Board policy.

“This policy aligns the conduct of Board members with the guiding principles in the Rainbow District School Board Code of Conduct.

“Board members occupy positions of public trust and responsibility.

“They are expected to maintain the integrity of the Board and their positions as trustees by acting in a professional and impartial manner.

“It is imperative that trustees act, and be seen to act, in the best interests of the young people they serve. GOV-05 is available on the Board website.”

Ms. Bilbija suggested that “this is not the first time the board has gone after Larry” citing previous sanctions and the board’s nebulous sanctions against “perceived or anticipated violations” following an Ombudsman Report that had cleared the trustee of any wrongdoing. She noted that she believed that concept was quietly dropped.

Ms. Bilbija also cited the board chair’s decision to address the Manitoulin Secondary School graduating class as something she interprets as a slight towards the trustee.

“Larry has been to every graduating class, at every Island school, that I can recall,” she said. “I don’t ever recall the board chair giving the address before. Why now?”

Mr. Killens has until 4 pm on August 17 to file a written submission, addressed to the chair of the RDSB, in regards to the sanctions imposed.