Doug Millroy: “secret ballot”

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Even though Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board trustees haven’t used a secret ballot since 2014, I believe they made a mistake in voting down a motion by Trustee Bill Murphy that would have banned its use.

More so, possibly, because the vote to defeat the motion was made in a secret ballot.

It is a matter of optics, how it is viewed in the public domain.

Why are trustees not held to the same standard as municipal councillors? There all votes have to be cast in open session.

In the case at hand, the comments from trustees opposing the move contained in Sault Star reporter Brian Kelly’s coverage of the meeting are not only bad optics, they are scary.

Those opposing the move preached transparency and by and large, since the secret ballot hasn’t been used since 2014, they have followed it.

But what follows, paraphrased, essentially is what Kelly reports Chair John Caputo, vice-chair Gary Trembinski and trustees Lindsay Liske and Leslie Cassidy-Amadio, who opposed ending the secret vote option during open discussion, said about the motion.

Cassidy-Amadio said: The secret ballot allows for individuals who may feel intimidated to vote with good conscience, providing an opportunity to vote on contentious issues without feeling intimidated or judged by someone who might be presenting on whatever issue is before us.

Liske said: A recorded vote only notes if a trustee decided yes or no on an issue, with no explanation for their decision. None of these (secret) votes get taken out of context and put out in public for whatever personal gain that one person may want. I’m totally against (Murphy’s) motion, but I’m totally for transparency.

Trembinki said: The secret ballot allows trustees to vote their true sentiments. If you’re receiving pressure from different places, keep the politics out of it and allow people to vote their true sentiments and then the true vote will come forward. That’s what we want. That’s transparency. Caputo said in his two decades as a trustee the secret ballot had been used only in June 2014. That was when Murphy backed Trustee Kathleen Rosilius’s motion to have a letter sent to the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association asking that it not participate in WorldPride 2014, since the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage and sexual relations between two people of the same sex. It would have been “political suicide” for trustees to vote in favour of Rosilius’s motion. He said the secret ballot option allowed trustees to truly vote what they believed.

I agree Rosilius’s motion should have been voted down in 2014 as such thinking has no place in today’s society, but I don’t think it had to be done in secret ballot.

I don’t think it had to be employed on Murphy’s motion either.

Actually, I find myself wondering what the opposing trustees felt when they read their comments in Kelly’s story, which to an outsider like myself showed them to be talking about transparency out of one side of their mouth while out of the other they were saying they needed the secret ballot so they could express their true feelings.

Really, they would hide their true feelings from those who, in good faith, elected them?

Despite what it seems, despite how it came out of the trustees’ mouths, I don’t think this is really the case. It seems more to me that the trustees’ comments about their concerns were exaggerated and any reasonable person would see this. Otherwise the secret ballot would have been invoked when the issue of whether to provide Gardasil vaccinations to female Grade 8 students to prevent the human papillomavirus (HPV) was front and centre years ago.

As you will recall this was a contentious issue in the extreme among Catholics and the discussion and the vote were held in full view of the public, along with coverage by The Sault Star and SooToday..

I am not a tax supporter of the Catholic board but if I were, I would want to know that my representative would be expressing his or her true feelings in public and voting accordingly.

I find it alarming that some on the present board do not feel that way.

Murphy had introduced the motion to ban all secret votes at a meeting in March, wanting it to be used only during the election of board, vice and committee chairs. He said other Catholic boards in Northeastern Ontario use the secret ballot only in those situations.

“This is a publicly-elected board and any vote should be transparent such that the public is aware of how their elected representatives vote,” he said.. “This is Democracy 101. The current bylaw is ill-advised and a disservice to our constituents.”

He is right. On a  publicly-elected board any vote should be transparent such that the public is aware of how their elected representatives vote

Any trustee not willing to express his or her true feelings in public on any issue for any reason has betrayed the public trust shouldn’t be there.

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