Calls for elected officials to be open and transparent to avoid scandal like the one brewing at the Toronto District School Board over an expense audit
Education Minister Liz Sandals will not force trustees to publicly post their expenses despite several spending-related and alleged document-tampering scandals at the Toronto public board, and even though other levels of government routinely disclose such information.
TDSB School Trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher shows her work expense documents in her living room back in April. She has already posted her expenses and receipts on her personal website. (CHRIS SO / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)
That means if taxpayers want details about what these elected officials are spending public money on, they have to file a freedom-of-information request and pay whatever the board charges to compile the receipts.
In the case of the Toronto District School Board, the Star was quoted $3,300 for details for all 22 trustees over the past four years.
“With regards to your question on posting trustee expenses online, the ministry’s expectation is that all school boards are compliant with the Broader Public Sector Expenses Directive, which does not specify that school boards need to post trustees’ expenses,” said Nilani Logeswaran, spokesperson for Education Minister Liz Sandals.
Recent allegations have rocked the board with accusations that trustees and board staff interfered and tampered with a freedom-of-information (FOI) request by the Star seeking an internal audit that outlined all kinds of questionable expenses taxpayers reimbursed trustees for, including a trip to Israel, thousands in roaming charges and long-distance calls — some during the Christmas Break — and items like hand lotion, cookies and donations to a group called the Canada Alpha Educational Fund, “which may be perceived as personal in nature.”
Information about the alleged tampering was revealed in a separate FOI request by the Star, seeking emails from the board’s FOI officer, Maria Mavroyannis, in which she says staff and trustees were discussing the request, what information should be released and even making changes. She sent several emails reminding that anything subject to an FOI request cannot be altered.
Ontario’s acting information and privacy commissioner, Brian Beamish, launched an immediate investigation into possible tampering after reading the Star story outlining the allegations.
In a statement , Beamish said that “if proven, these actions would raise significant concerns about the transparency and accountability of the board and its compliance with the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.”
Matthew McGuire, president of the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition, said “the more information voters have, the better.
“I think all expenses should be posted online, to a reasonable degree and within a reasonable time frame, be it six months or yearly or quarterly. City Hall posts expenses quite regularly a few times a year, and I think the school board would be well-served to do that. Voters would be well-served.”
The taxpayers coalition has created a “pledge of accountability” signed by 14 Toronto trustee candidates so far, and McGuire said being open about how they are spending money is one step.
The Toronto Catholic board was the first to have trustees publish all details and make them publicly accessible online. Practices at other Greater Toronto boards vary.
Trustee John Del Grande of the Toronto Catholic board, who was the first to post online expenses back in 2006 with then chair Oliver Carroll, has told the Star: “Believe it or not, when I encouraged other trustees and boards to look at posting their expenses the same way, I got nothing but rebuke from other boards. Some even went to our board chair to chastise me for even suggesting it.
“Other boards felt it was a Toronto problem — they didn’t have big expense budgets or didn’t want to draw attention.”
The Catholic board is now looking at also posting expenses of senior staff including all documentation.
At least two Toronto public board trustees, Sheila Cary-Meagher and Shelley Laskin, have gone ahead and posted their expenses and receipts on their personal websites.
Cary-Meagher has also renewed her call for openness “in the wake of growing concerns about disclosure of expense claims at the board,” which she said could have been avoided if others had already been transparent with expense filings.