BEYOND THE HEADLINES: The one-man board

There are positive examples of a single individual taking over a board

It will be interesting to see how Mike McKay handles his new duties.

The former Surrey superintendent recently assumed all of the roles held by the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District board after trustees were fired by the provincial government.

Among his obligations will be to hold public board meetings, and if the concept of one-person meetings appears odd, there is precedent for such a scenario.

Back in the spring of 1992, a majority of Vernon Jubilee Hospital’s trustees resigned in protest after the relatively new NDP government forced them to provide abortion services at the facility.

Then-health minister Elizabeth Cull appointed Lower Mainland consultant Grant Moreton to replace the 16 members that previously sat around the table.

“The idea is to function as the board has functioned in the past,” said Moreton in an interview at the time.

As the health reporter, I was familiar with board structure at VJH prior to Moreton’s arrival. The sessions were chaotic as the so-called publicly elected trustees, all members of the local pro-life society, clashed with trustees appointed by the government, municipalities and physicians over abortion. Discussions would drag on forever and little was achieved.

But all of that changed with Moreton.

He would walk into the room and sit at the head of a table, flanked by the administrator and any other required staff. He would then call the meeting to order and proceed through the agenda items.

If action was needed, Moreton would make a motion and, no I am not making this up, raise his hand in favour. He would then close out the meeting and take questions from the media present.

They were unusual meetings and I have never been to anything like them since, but except for the absence of differing viewpoints, they were completely transparent and straight forward. It was a distinct departure from how the previous board had handled the public’s business at VJH.

Jump ahead to 2016 and there are some concerns from municipal officials about how McKay will represent the community’s interests at the school board.

“I hope there will be an opportunity for them (McKay) to meet with the community and have all concerns addressed,” said Shirley Fowler, an Armstrong councillor.

And similar concerns arose in 1992 when alderman Patrick Nicol slammed Moreton’s appointment at VJH.

“The hospital is being run by bureaucrats. There is no direct representation for citizens’ complaints,” he said.

But if my memory holds up, Moreton brought much-needed stability to the hospital, although some significant staffing changes were necessary to get there. VJH eventually transitioned to a governance model with representatives from the community.

And just because McKay is a one-person board in the North Okanagan-Shuswap, doesn’t mean he will be dictatorial or not consult with the community.

If anything, his experiences in other districts may allow him to avoid the baggage of the previous school board and move the district in a positive direction.