Toronto District School Board trustees have defeated a move to publicly address the conduct of their chair after revelations he was the subject of spending probes during his tenure as a school principal.
Long-time trustee Stephnie Payne urged her colleagues to force Chris Bolton to provide an explanation at a public meeting on Wednesday of donations for a Toronto elementary school that he directed to his own charity more than a decade ago.
But during a private meeting earlier in the evening, Ms. Payne failed to get enough support from her colleagues to move the matter forward even in private, let alone public. Only eight supported her, leaving her short three votes.
“I’m very angry,” Ms. Payne told The Globe and Mail. “Something is being hidden and the public needs to know.”
Trustees who spoke with The Globe said Mr. Bolton briefly addressed the matter, saying everything had been dropped. Sheila Ward, a former TDSB chair and staunch supporter of Mr. Bolton, has said she did not share the results of the 2005 probe because she believed there was no proof of wrongdoing.
Another trustee expressed surprise that Mr. Bolton and Ms. Ward voted against Ms. Payne’s initiative instead of recusing themselves. Of the 22 TDSB trustees, 19 were at the private session.
Mr. Bolton was not available for comment on Wednesday evening.
Ms. Payne said that despite the defeat, she hopes a member of the community will launch a public complaint, which would compel Mr. Bolton to address the allegations.
Ms. Payne said it was important for trustees to understand how the investigation, revealed by The Globe, concluded. A TDSB spokesman said the file was closed in 2005, but the outcome is not known.
TDSB staff investigated donations for a Toronto elementary school that Mr. Bolton directed to his own charity before he was elected a trustee in 2003, according to internal reports obtained by The Globe. The probe raised questions about Mr. Bolton’s dual roles as a school principal and, according to one report, the “alter ego” of his charity. He became chair of the TDSB in 2010.
None of the reports have been shared with trustees.
Mr. Bolton defended his actions in an earlier interview, saying there was “nothing untoward about it.”
Among the findings by TDSB staff, Mr. Bolton directed to his charity, Friends of Community Schools, a $50,000 grant for disadvantaged students that Ryerson Community School received from the Atkinson Foundation. His charity took a 5-per-cent management fee, even though the TDSB is a registered charity and does not charge fees for managing donations for its schools.
The TDSB, with the help of two law firms it retained, launched a review in 2001 of Mr. Bolton’s handling of the donations to Ryerson while he was principal. By the time the review concluded in 2005, the TDSB had not been able to determine how the proceeds were dispersed.
Mr. Bolton refused to provide the TDSB with an accounting of how his charity used the donations, telling The Globe it was “none of their business” because the donations were made to his charity in trust for Ryerson.
The investigators’ findings are summarized in a 2005 letter from law firm Keel Cottrelle to Mr. Bolton, accusing him of breaching his fiduciary duty to act in Ryerson’s best interests. The letter asked him to repay $3,250 in commissions that were “unauthorized” and “constitute misappropriation of funds.” Mr. Bolton’s charity charged the commissions on donations to Ryerson totalling $65,000, including $50,000 from Atkinson and $10,000 from actor Denzel Washington, who shot a scene for a film at the school.
It is not known whether Mr. Bolton repaid the money. He told The Globe he never saw the letter from Keel Cottrelle, which was sent to his Toronto home by registered mail.
Trustee Chris Tonks said before the meeting that he hoped the “serious issues” would be raised.
“There’s a crisis of confidence and accountability at our board, and we need to be doing things and taking actions that show the public that we are acting in a transparent manner, in an honest manner,” Mr. Tonks said.
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