Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Kocsis appeals chicken board muzzle

Gabe Kocsis, a veteran district committee representative (DCR) for District 5 (Niagara area) for the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board laid out an appeal of discipline the board imposed on him last year.

Because he refused to sign a form to agree that he would abide by the board’s bylaw on confidentiality and code of conduct, the board cut him off from communications.

That included documents the board shares with DCRs via an electronic portal they can access with an I-pad provided by the board, attendance at DCR meetings and communications with board directors.

The board designates directors and DCRs who fail to sign the agreements “non-participants” and effectively keeps them performing the duties normally associated with the elected positions.

Kocsis objects to the entire policy as it applies to DCRs, but limited his request to the tribunal to reversal of the board’s declaration of him as a non-participant.

He said the board repeatedly embarrassed him by posting that designation on its website since it took the action last year when he had several months remaining on his two-year term.

Kocsis was defeated in his bid for election as a director for  2018-19 and then refused nomination as a DCR because he would need to sign the agreement if he wanted to serve his fellow producers in District 5.

Lawyer Geoff Spurr, representing the chicken board, said the bylaw does not prevent any chicken-producing board member in a district where he resides from running for election, nor does it prevent him from advocating for fellow chicken producers or filing appeals to the board or the tribunal.

But it does cut off communications because, testified board chairman Ed Benjamins, there is information the board would like to share with DCRs, but only on condition that it be kept confidential.

He cited examples such as trade negotiations, current consultations to make modular chicken loading mandatory and the upcoming cost-of-production study that will determine pricing.

Spurr said most bodies with public responsibilities are adopting similar codes of practice and confidentiality agreements.

Benjamins said the bylaws reflect changes since he first served as a board director in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The landscape and behaviours have changed astronomically.”

Now board directors and DCRs receive extensive training and for directors it includes board meetings where they are briefed by a psychologist on their behaviour and by a professor of business management.

Kocsis argued that the board has no regulations on which it can rely to impose bylaws on DCRs.

Spurr countered that the board consulted its supervisory body, the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, which raised no objections to the bylaws.

It did caution the board that in applying the bylaws, it should not refuse DCRs, directors and farmer-members the right to make representations to the board.

Kocsis has served at least 10 years as a DCR and terms as a board director. During his dust-up with the board, he was acting as lawyer for a chicken farmer who had an issue with the board.

That was mentioned during the public hearing, but only in passing although at one point Spurr said Kocsis’s dual role as a lawyer for the farmer and a DCR was the nub of the issue.