Conflict of Interest in Vote on Motion to Renew Superintendent’s $429,923 (i.e.$430,000) Contract
An important note: My readers need to know that I am in no way accusing Trustee Kowalczyk or his wife of any wrong doing — on Friday, Jan. 27th he followed the advice of ECSD’s internal legal counsel which he trusted and which he should be able to trust.
In the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 26 I phoned the Office of the Ethics Commissioner to ask a question in regards to Trustee Kowalczyk’s eligibility to vote on the motion to renew Superintendent Carr’s $430,000 contract. They took my question seriously and told me they would get back to me as soon as possible given that the vote was to take place at 9 am on Friday, Jan. 27th. They returned my call that same afternoon and told me unequivocally that Trustee Kowalczyk did indeed have a conflict of interest due to the fact his wife was a principal and that he would be in breech of the Board’s Organizational Bylaw 11 if he voted on this matter. They clarified further stating that if his wife had been a teacher, he would not be in a conflict of interest. According to Org Bylaw 11.10 on p. 25, it states under Designated Non-Conflicts: A trustee shall not be considered to have a conflict of interest solely on the grounds that the matter before the Board involves…(d) a pecuniary interest of the Trustee that is so remote or insignificant that it cannot be reasonably regarded as likely to influence the Trustee”. According to 11.10 (d) Trustee Kowalcyk is in a significant conflict of interest that is not at all remote: if he votes on the contract of the superintendent who can promote his principal wife Eugenia Kowalczyk (Principal of St. Thomas More Junior High School) to Assistant Superintendent, his wife will get an increase in pay and hence he has a pecuniary interest in voting to renew the superintendent’s contract. His vote would very likely be influenced by the relationship his wife has with the Superintendent.
I reported this to the Board on Friday at the Special Public Board meeting but Carole Karbonik, ECSD’s internal legal counsel advised Trustee Kowalczyk he was not in a conflict of interest and that he was therefore eligible to vote. You will note in Org Bylaw 11.6 that a trustee has the right to make a claim that another trustee is in a conflict of interest and “shall state the substance of the conflict of interest and advance his or her reason for believing that the trustee named has such a conflict of interest”. This I did at the Special Public Board Meeting on Jan. 27th. After a claim has been made, the Org Bylaw then goes on to state in 11.7 that “the Trustee alleged to have a conflict of interest shall in all cases be given the opportunity to disclaim such a conflict of interest, state the substance of the disclaimer and advance his or her reason for the disclaimer”. We can say he did this through ECSD internal Counsel Karbonik. In 11.8 the Board was then supposed to take a vote on “whether the trustee alleged to have a conflict of interest does, in its opinion, have such a conflict of interest, and the decision shall be final and binding, subject only to a decision of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta or Court of Appeal of Alberta. Neither the Trustee or Officer advancing the claim nor the Trustee alleged to have a conflict of interest shall vote on the decision of the Board”. Not only were we not given any advice by our internal legal counsel on how to proceed with my claim according to our Bylaws (watch the video), but we did not take this important vote. Had we taken the vote and voted that he had a conflict of interest, Trustee Kowalzcyk would have recused himself from the vote, and the outcome would have been extremely different. The vote on my claim was not taken and Trustee Kowalczyk remained for the vote which was 4-3 in favour of renewing. Without his vote, the result would have been 3-3, the motion therefore lost and we would have begun a search for a new superintendent.
The Board under the advice of internal counsel Carole Karbonik, has broken it’s own bylaws and contravened the Alberta School Act Section 83 (1) (b) which states that “When a trustee has a pecuniary interest in a matter before the board, any committee of the board or any commission, committee or agency to which the trustee is appointed as a representative of the board, the trustee shall, if present (b) abstain from voting on any question relating to the matter, and (d) subject to subsections (2) and (3), leave the room in which the meeting is being held until the discussion and voting on the matter are concluded.”
On Monday I will be calling the Ethics Commissioner again to ask advice on how to proceed now that the vote was taken contravening the process outlined in our Org. Bylaws 11.8 requiring the Board to vote on my claim, contravening 11.10 (d) of our Bylaws that states he would not have a pecuniary interest if the influence is remote–which it wasn’t, and contravening the School Act. If the Ethics Commissioner has no jurisdiction over trustees as was reported in some versions of the Edmonton Journal article on this issue, then I wonder why they were so helpful in answering my question. If they indeed do not have any jurisdiction over trustees, I will contact the office of the Minister of Education because this is a very serious matter that in my opinion, needs to be addressed by his office.
Addendum: Darrel Robertson, Superintendent of EPSB made $361,783 to oversee 229 schools whereas Joan Carr, Superintendent of ECSD made $429,928 to oversee 95 schools–2.41 times fewer schools but $68,145 more. Who decides on the salary of school superintendents? Answer: School Trustees.