By Eric W. Ricker
A few days ago, recently re-elected, two-term school trustee and former school board chairwoman Donna Allen tendered her resignation.
Like many local residents I regret this decision and not just because it will, in the opinion of a board spokesperson that is open to question, cost $100,000 to hold a by-election.
Allen has rendered invaluable service to Nanaimo’s educational community over the years and her progressive voice on important issues will surely be missed at the board table. A significant majority of voters has agreed through three consecutive elections.
It’s not Allen who should be resigning but Bill Bard, who caused her to make this decision.
Bard made a mockery of the word transparency by campaigning on that theme while failing to inform the public about his criminal record. He now proclaims that he did nothing to conceal that record.
His answer is disingenuous at best: Did Bard expect members of the public to go trolling through the courthouse registry to discover that record?
It’s not as though Bard didn’t recognize that his criminal record could be an important issue. In mid-campaign he was asked by a little-known publication that had been apprised of his record to provide his “side” of the story.
Bard jumped at the opportunity, but rather than displaying contrition, he blamed his misfortune on a tenant and then used more than half the space he was allotted to attack the school board for its “crimes” against students and the Nanaimo community in general.
It was an argument that would not impress a court and most certainly would not have impressed most voters, had they been aware of it.
In some American states and large cities, Bard would have been barred from seeking office. In others he would have been required to disclose his criminal record.
In Chicago, for example, candidates for positions on local school councils, which arguably have almost as much authority as our local school boards, must complete a criminal record disclosure form, with the public additionally provided formal opportunities – without having to resort to the courts – to challenge the legal standing of a candidate before and after an election.
But of course that is not the case in B.C., where Bard is entitled to sit tight, continue with the lame, even abrasive, defence of his conduct, and hope that any controversy just fades away. And given his self-serving comments thus far, that appears to be what he intends to do.
The students and parents of this district deserve much better. A school board member is a “trustee,” with all the meaning that venerable term still entails.
We continue to have independent school boards because throughout our history it has been recognized that providing for the education of the young is a very special trust. An impeccable standard of conduct has always been expected of those who assume responsibility for that trust.
Bard has dissembled about his criminal record and even attempted to spin it as a virtue. He has informed this newspaper that he is now attempting to legally extinguish that record. These are not the actions of a man who is worthy of the position of trust he so narrowly managed to gain.
Bard should do the right thing and resign.
And if the law permits it, Allen should withdraw her resignation and continue her stellar record of service on behalf of the voters of the Nanaimo school district.
Eric Ricker is a retired Dalhousie University professor of educational policy and public administration. For more than 20 years he taught a graduate-level course in school board administration.