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Injunction against EMSB trustee filed by chairman refused in court

Click to play video: 'New EMSB chair fails to oust trustee Marlene Jennings' New EMSB chair fails to oust trustee Marlene Jennings
WATCH: EMSB chairman Joe Ortona took trustee Marlene Jennings to court over her decision to name a replacement for the EMSB's director general following the resignation of Ann Marie Matheson. Global’s Olivia O’Malley reports – Oct 14, 2020

EMSB chairman Joe Ortona took the government-appointed trustee Marlene Jennings to court over the adoption and approval of new bylaws on the internal governance of the council, as well as her decision to appoint a replacement for the EMSB’s director general following the resignation of Ann Marie Matheson in August.

Jennings was appointed trustee by Education Minister Jean-François Roberge in November 2019 following a scathing audit of the board’s governance and years of political infighting among its elected officials.

In the injunction filed by Ortona and several commissioners, the chairman argued Jennings does not have the authority to hold special board meetings that could affect the board’s governance.

Two such meetings were scheduled to take place on Oct. 14 and 28.

Read more: Preliminary report reveals mismanagement of funds at English Montreal School Board

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The plaintiffs pointed to the Act respecting school elections whereby, the council of commissioners is not allowed to “sit” during a blackout period.

“Ms. Jennings can no longer call meetings where she acts in lieu of the council of commissioner. She does not hold greater powers than the council of commissioners,” they argued in court documents.

While school board elections were scheduled for Nov. 1. they were called off due to the pandemic. However, nine ESMB candidates who were acclaimed are set to be declared elected by the returning officer on Nov. 6.

In the decision, which came late Tuesday afternoon, Quebec superior court judge Christian Immer ruled there is no serious issue to be tried and refused to grant a provisional injunction.

Ortona believes the acclaimed council of commissioners, which faced no opposition in September, should be the one choosing a new director general and not Jennings, as her trusteeship is coming to an end on Nov. 6.

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In a series of letters, he also alleged that Jennings doesn’t have the authority to call special board meetings regarding internal governance.

Jennings shot back saying it is her responsibility to fulfill her role until the end of her term, which includes appointing a new director general.

In an effort to find a competent candidate, Jennings says she invited Ortona and the other commissioners to join the selection committee twice, the first time verbally and the second through a formal letter.

Ortona refused to participate in the process and joined several elected EMSB commissioners to take legal action against Jennings.

Read more: Joe Ortona acclaimed as new EMSB chair as most commissioners face no opposition

“We want to make sure that there’s at least the proper management, control and oversight that a school board is supposed to have,” said Ortona. “When Ms. Jennings said that the changes she’s making and the policies that she’s putting in place are Bill 40 compliant, that’s troublesome.”

In his decision, Immer agreed with Jennings.

“The logic undperpinning section 160.1 of the Act respecting school elections is to prevent decision to be taken during a political process,” Immer said.

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“There is no logic for preventing Ms. Jennings to carry out her mandate to realign EMSB on the path of good governance and proper manaagement. She acts above and in abstraction of the electoral process.”

Jennings for her part fears the board hasn’t changed since her mandate began almost a year ago.

“I’m disappointed, certainly, but I’m really disappointed for the EMSB community,” Jennings said about the board’s behaviour and recourse to legal action.

“I find it really disappointing that these commissioners have not done their homework over the last 11 months. They decided they have had enough of seeing good governance at the EMSB.”

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for the education minister says they have full confidence in Jennings as she finishes her mandate. She will remain in her position until her trusteeship ends on Nov. 6.

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