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Recorded-voting motion rejected by school board

Feb 15 2012

Greater Victoria school trustees have defeated a motion that would have made it easier for the public to see where their elected officials stand on issues.

Diane McNally, a new trustee elected last fall, had called for all votes to be recorded in board minutes.

The record would show the trustee's name and whether they voted yes or no or abstained.

"My motivation [was] to make trustees' voting records more transparent to the public," she said.

The board majority, however, decided at a recent committee meeting to continue the practice of recording a trustee's vote only if he or she requests that it be noted in the minutes. Otherwise, the minutes indicate that a motion was carried, carried unanimously or defeated with no indication of where individual trustees stood on an issue.

McNally plans to raise the motion again at a full meeting of the board next week.

But Victoria board chairwoman Peg Orcherton said the current system works well and that it's up to individual trustees to decide how transparent they want to be. "I think it comes down to individual trustee responsibility and the opportunity to record your vote is already in our rules," she said. "If trustees don't want to record their votes that's their individual right. But I don't see why they wouldn't if they feel strongly enough about an issue."

Vice-chairwoman Bev Horsman agreed. "If a trustee wants the public to know how they stand on an issue, they record their negative vote," she said. "If a trustee doesn't feel that it's that important a thing, then they don't record their negative vote."

Horsman said McNally's idea of recording the votes of all trustees would create too much work for the board secretaries. "They have their hands full recording our comments as it is."

Tom Ferris, who also voted against McNally's motion, said the minutes should reflect the overall board's direction, rather than the views of individual trustees. "I don't really link accountability to an individual trustee, I link accountability to the board," he said.

Ferris acknowledged that public has a right to know how individual trustees vote on issues. "But you could always ask," he said. "People routinely ask me what's my opinion on this or that, and I'm happy to let them know."

Trustee Deborah Nohr, who supported McNally's motion, said she was told by voters last fall that they want more transparency on the board. "This is a very simple, but important way to do that," she said.

Nohr said the board might act as one body, but trustees are elected as individuals and have a duty of openness and accountability to the voters. "The public has said they want to be able to track the votes and it is not something they presently feel they can do."

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association also questioned the board's current practice of leaving transparency up to individual trustees.

"The transparency should be in the system," executive director Vincent Gogolek said. "Here's how everybody voted, not, well, here's how the people who feel like being open voted.

"Especially as you come up to an election, you want to know: 'These are the folks that are running for re-election, what did they do on the issues that are important to me?' If you don't have a recorded vote, how are you supposed to find that out?"

The Sooke and Saanich school boards take a similar approach as the Victoria board, recording votes only if trustees request it.

However, the Comox Valley School Board moved last year to record all votes.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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