TVDSB forms committee to probe code of conduct complaint against trustee Jake Skinner

Thames Valley District School Board trustee Jake Skinner. Facebook

The Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) says a formal inquiry committee has been formed to examine a code of conduct complaint against board trustee Jake Skinner.

The move comes months after a PR firm Skinner co-runs came under fire for its role in the creation of two attack websites during the 2018 municipal election.

The complaint was filed by Skinner’s colleague, board trustee Corrine Rahman, on June 11. In a statement at the time, Rahman said she had “followed our procedure to request an inquiry into the actions of Trustee Skinner” and that “it is important to me to stand up for what I believe in and set a good example for students.”

READ MORE: Thames Valley school board trustee files complaint against colleague over Blackridge Strategy scandal

In a statement, the TVDSB said the committee looking into the complaint will be made up of board chair Arlene Morell and trustees Bill McKinnon and Bruce Smith. Trustees are barred from speaking publicly about the matter.

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As part of the process, documents and written statements from the trustee who filed the complaint will be gathered, along with “any other witnesses who wish to present information,” the board explained.

Skinner will be given up to 30 days to respond, and a confidential report will be handed over to the board outlining whether any code of conduct breach occurred and what sanctions, if any, should be levied.

Asked for comment, Skinner told 980 CFPL he looked forward to a “fair and impartial process following the laws of natural justice.”

“As part of that, Trustees are to refrain from making any comments in the media to protect the integrity of the process and ensure it is conducted in a private and confidential manner,” he said in an emailed statement. “As such, I will reserve comment until the appropriate time.”

READ MORE: Blackridge Strategy defends fake campaign websites

The nature of the complaint itself has not been made public – the board says it can’t release any details about it – but Rahman’s filing came a week after Skinner’s firm, Blackridge Strategy, defended its role in creating a pair of attack websites aimed at two then-incumbent city councillors, Maureen Cassidy and Virginia Ridley, during the 2018 election.

Skinner co-runs Blackridge with Amir Farahi, whose name and credit card information appeared on domain registration documents for the two websites, court documents released in late May revealed.

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In October, after the websites made headlines, Farahi denied involvement, telling CTV London he was being framed and that someone had stolen his identity.

Following the release of the court documents, Blackridge publicly acknowledged on June 4 it was behind the websites, but said in a statement that it stood behind them and did not apologize.

READ MORE: Community activist apologizes for creating fake mayoral candidate Paul Paolatto website

Blackridge worked with a dozen municipal candidates in the 2018 election, including candidates who ran against Cassidy and Ridley. Six of their clients were elected. Following the release of the court documents, several said they would not use the firm again in the future.

A campaign worker for Ward 10 Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen, who defeated Ridley, later came forward, saying he had hired the local PR firm to create the Ridley website.

Ward 5 candidate Randy Warden, who had also worked with Blackridge Strategy during the election campaign, said he was unaware of the fake Cassidy website but took responsibility for it and apologized for “agents or volunteers” acting on his behalf.

— With files from Devon Peacock

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