The highest ranking education official in the region is no longer working for the school board, having left his job for undisclosed reasons two months before he was scheduled to retire following a 35-year career in education.
Local trustees refuse to divulge why Richard Harvey, who was hired as school board superintendent in 2006, is no longer the top bureaucrat with the Pembina Hills Regional Division.
A four-sentence press release issued Monday, Oct. 25, states Harvey, who was appointed superintendent on Aug. 1, 2006, is no longer a school division employee as of Saturday, Oct. 23. Colleen Symyrozum-Watt will act as superintendent until Egbert Stang becomes the division's new boss on Jan. 1.
Harvey appeared at the Sept. 22 school board meeting in Westlock at R.F. Staples School and gave no indication anything was amiss. On Sept. 29 he took a leave of absence - information that was not made public until the Westlock News spoke with former board chairman Clayton Jespersen on Oct. 21.
Harvey was scheduled to retire from Pembina Hills at the end of the year and a party in his honour had been scheduled for Oct. 16, but was subsequently postponed.
His home is now empty and a neighbour, Margaret Simpson, said she remembers the couple left Barrhead on Oct. 22.
"We said our goodbyes, and they told me they were heading back out east," Simpson said, adding she was surprised because she knew Harvey and his wife Verna were leaving, just not so soon.
Kathy Telser, the communications director for Alberta Education, would not comment on why Harvey, who has 35 years experience in education, is no longer employed by Pembina Hills, but said they're aware he is gone.
"They (Pembina Hills) have a responsibility to communicate with the public what's happening," Telser said.
Senior administrators in the division, including all school principals, were told of the situation during a video conference the morning of Monday, Oct. 25.
Despite Jespersen no longer holding elected office, several of the new trustees have said he has instructed them not to say anything as he continues to speak for the division on this matter. Symyrozum-Watt has also directed questions on the issue to Jespersen.
"The board has asked me to do that and they can certainly ask anyone," he said.
Jespersen would not say whether Harvey, who was originally from St. John's Nfld., left on his own volition, or was fired. Jespersen also refused to comment on whether the former superintendent received a severance package.
New board chairman Doug Fleming, who retained his seat by acclamation in Westlock, would not comment on the matter. Busby's Annette Bokenfohr, who won Jespersen's seat after campaigning on a platform that included, among other things, the promise to be more open and transparent, declined to comment.
She also declined comment on whether she felt it was appropriate for the board to withhold this information from the public.
Sherry Allen, who won the the second seat formerly held by Weida Kingma in the Dapp/Jarvie/Fawcett area, similarly said she wouldn't comment on the former superintendent or on the issue of openness and transparency.
"Beyond the publication the school division issued, I have nothing to tell you," she said.
Jespersen said anyone who releases information about this matter could be subject to a fine of $100,000 or more, according to the rules laid out in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act.
"Any release of information concerning any personal information, under the FOIP rules, is a severe penalty," Jespersen said.
The Westlock News has filed a request under the FOIP Act to access information relating to the termination of Harvey's employment. The process can often take several months.