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Shroud of silence misguided policy

Instead of walking proudly into retirement after a 35-year career in education, Richard Harvey’s departure from the Pembina Hill Regional Division (PHRD) is surrounded in controversy.

Instead of walking proudly into retirement after a 35-year career in education, Richard Harvey’s departure from the Pembina Hill Regional Division (PHRD) is surrounded in controversy.

That is very unfortunate and could have been prevented had the top administrators with the local school board come clean and not gone basically into hiding by adopting a shroud of secrecy and silence relating to Harvey’s departure.

Harvey, who had been the superintendent of education for PHRD since 2006, was officially relieved of his duties, effective Oct. 23.

No one will comment on whether he was fired, he resigned or left for personal reasons.

Colleen Symryozum-Watt will act as superintendent until Egbert Stang becomes the new superintendent effective Jan. 1.

Symryozum-Watt won’t comment and all media contact has gone through longtime former chair Clayton Jespersen, which is questionable at best considering Jespersen is no longer a board member after being defeated to retain his seat on the PHRD board of trustees during the Oct. 18 municipal election.

Since area media found out about his departure and started asking questions, top brass with the PHRD has basically adopted a code of silence surrounding Harvey’s departure.

No newspaper would be doing its job if it didn’t ask tough questions demanding answers when it involves a public figure and taxpayers’ money.

Most of all, this situation is unfair to Harvey, a man who dedicated his entire professional life to education.

Because Harvey has left under such mysterious circumstances and no one in a position of authority is willing to divulge any pertinent details, his departure has become the talk of the town.

When bureaucrats resort to secrecy under controversial circumstances, the reality is rumours begin, false information is shared and innuendo ensues.

The PHRD’s top brass have nobody to blame but themselves.

The reality is Harvey was a well-paid public administrator whose big salary was paid for entirely through taxpayer dollars.

Everyone knows provincial legislation dictates personnel decisions to be one of the few matters allowed to be discussed in-camera on school boards and municipal councils.

Unless Harvey committed a crime — and there is absolutely no suggestion he did — then the reasons for his departure aren’t essential. If he left on stress leave or for personal reasons, it’s really no one’s business, but that should have been revealed.

But to simply say nothing and let speculation run rampant is misguided policy.

The residents of this community — and all surrounding communities where PHRD schools are located — do deserve to know if Harvey was paid any kind of severance package, how much and for how long.

The fact there has been only silence and unwillingness to answer tough questions is, quite frankly, embarrassing to this school board.

Too many people in positions of power think they can get away with avoiding the media and not answering tough questions. It almost always backfires.

The Westlock News has formally filed a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) application to try and determine what happened. If they had not, the Barrhead Leader would have.

Sooner or later, the truth will emerge.

The fact top brass at PHRD believe media and public pressure will simply go away with the passage of time is fundamentally flawed.

People have the right to know where their tax dollars are going.

Adopting a code of silence should never be the chosen course. And this should never be allowed to happen again.

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