Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, February 12, 2010

Daycare: We Need An Investigation Now

  • Elected officials and staff should take all necessary steps to avoid preferential treatment or the appearance of preferential treatment for friends or family.

Why can't anything ever be straight-forward in this City?

The Ronna Warsh bombshell means that the Mayor and Council have no choice but to stop the daycare changes until an independent investigation is undertaken.

Perhaps the result will be the same if this matter is reheard as well, perhaps it will be different. It does not matter.

What does matter however to:

  • the over 400 children and their families whose lives will be disrupted

  • the over 100 City employees who will be involved in bumping or who may be let go

  • City/County relations

is that they gave been treated fairly and not railroaded.

Serious questions have been raised by Daryl Newcombe's story on Eh-channel about the role of Ronna Warsh in the Daycare matter. A complete investigation is needed to determine whether she is in breach of her duty as a member of City Administration and what the consequences are if she is in breach.

She after all was one of the co-authors of the Daycare report that was presented to Council that recommended closing down Municipal Daycare. The obvious beneficiaries: private daycare centres who have their own problems with the introduction of JK/SK.

Listen to the Eh-Channel news report

Ronna's sister-in-law, Marcie Warsh, is Program Coordinator of Sundowners Day Care and Resource Centre. There was an allegation as well as of "friendship" with a close friend of hers also being involved with a private daycare. Who the person(s) is (are) was not named in the report. The rumour mill though has named a certain specific person so that should not be difficult to follow up.

It is said that Ms Warsh obtained a legal opinion. It would be interesting to know specifically the questions asked, what the advice given was and when it was obtained. I hope the question was not just limited just to the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act since that is inapplicable since she was not "elected."

Newcombe said that the legal opinion dealt with "co-authoring" the report and that this was not a violation of any code of conduct. Check out that conclusion for yourself with the information I provide below.

Did Ms Warsh identify her possible issue with her Superiors or the Integrity Commissioner for a ruling before the Report was issued? If so, with whom did she speak, when and what was the advice given?

Just so you will know, dear reader, here are some of the relevant sections of the City's Code of Conduct that would apply to Staff members like Ronna Warsh:

  • there are distinct and specialized roles expected of City staff in both the carrying out of their responsibilities and in dealing with Council

  • Members of Council and staff of the City are both servants of the public

  • under the direction of the CAO, staff have the responsibility and the authority to provide consultation, advice and direction to Council

  • Council should expect a high quality of advice from staff

  • 6. Staff of the City, for example:
    a. provide timely and useful advice to Council and its Committees;
    f. recommend policies, programs and budgets to Standing Committees and Council

  • Core Values

    Integrity/Ethics; Accountability/Responsibility; Service/Service Quality; Trust; and Leadership are the highest values held by Councillors and Staff. These values will be reflected in policy decisions, policy implementation and will form a vital part of the City of Windsor’s everyday operations.

  • Staff is expected to:
    Provide factual, clear, timely and professional advice based upon professional judgment but also include a range of options where applicable.

  • Codes of Conduct: General Principles

    1. The City should expand its current code of conduct for councillors and its conflict of interest policy for staff to include broader ethical considerations.
    2. The codes of conduct should go beyond the minimum standards of behaviour and set out the highest ideals and values toward which all public servants should be working.

  • Conflict of Interest and Apparent Conflict of Interest

    21. Councillors and staff should be made aware that it is unacceptable for them to act on a matter in which they have either a real or an apparent conflict of interest.
    22. Councillors and staff should take steps to avoid as best they can both real and apparent conflicts of interest.
    23. Councillors and staff should not use their positions to further their private interests
    30. Elected officials and staff should take all necessary steps to avoid preferential treatment or the appearance of preferential treatment for friends or family.
    33. Staff should refrain from any involvement in analysis or decision making on an issue in which they have a real or apparent conflict of interest. Conflicts or apparent conflicts should be disclosed to or discussed with the staff member’s supervisor.
    47. The City should give the integrity commissioner the power to recommend to Council an appropriate range of sanctions for ethical misdeeds by staff. These should be closely modelled on sanctions allowable under prevailing labour and employment law. To emphasize the importance of ethics within the organization, ethical misconduct should be regarded as among the most serious misconduct, and the sanctions should include the most serious penalties.

The City Solicitor made the comment that

  • "Ronna's relative received no benefit from that decision."

I do not understand that one. Municipal daycare is closing and over 400 children are looking to find a new daycare provider and this is no benefit. Did he forget this:

  • "Daycare operators worried

    Owners of daycares and Montessori schools are concerned that the province's new full-day kindergarten option will cause a significant drop in business at private-sector child care centres.

    "Everyone's scared," said Saskia Iannicello, executive director of Come and Play Day Nursery. "We're hearing that in two years, none of us are going to have jobs and they'll take our business...

    Roy fears if there's a mass exodus of older children from her schools to kindergarten, her business simply won't be viable."

He also seemed to forget how the Department was supposed to contact the parents to help them find a new provider. Could this give rise to an "apparent conflict" which is just as damaging as a "real" one! Remember what was said in the 2005 report re "perceptions."

He also seemed to dismiss the value of the report saying Council based its decision on the facts and what delegations said. I guess that amnesia disease is working overtime even for staff since he did not seem to recall Councillor Gignac's glowing endorsement of it.

Has he considered that "facts" from the 2005 report were omitted respecting the need for Municipal daycare and the failure of the Report to deal with the 2005 Report recommendations?

Clearly this is a serious matter that shakes the confidence of citizens in how this City is being run. People need to be examined and under oath. We need to know such matters as:

  • are there some preferred agencies in the know while others are left out

  • is there an "inner circle" of providers who are informed first of matters

  • how are children referred to private daycare providers and is the allocation fair

  • are certain providers receiving excess amounts of subsidization payments

  • who approves payments made to private daycare providers and have certain providers received more than their fair share of government money

  • have certain providers received benefits that others have not.

Jean Fox of CUPE was interviewed in the story. If the City refuses to stop and undertake an investigation, then her lawyers must take the appropriate steps to stop the process even if CUPE risks being slammed by the Star and their columnists. The County also needs to step up and get the Province involved if needed.

The children and their parents and the impacted employess require immediate action. They are owed it.