“I thank Mayor April Jeffs for her leadership in recognizing the proper process to prompt action on this matter by bringing a request directly to the NPCA Board.” – from a letter from Bruce Timms, Chair of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, to Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs
A News Commentary from Doug Draper followed by a ‘Letter of Thanks’ To Wainfleet’s Mayor from NPCA Chair Bruce Timms
This December has so far proven to be one of the rougher months for Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board members and administrators who have been dogged all year with growing questions and concerns over the way they use millions of dollars of our tax money to manage their operations.
Since this past December 5th alone, the elected members of councils in three Niagara municipalities, beginning with St. Catharines and continuing with Niagara-on-the-Lake and Port Colborne – overwhelming supported motions, urging the Ontario government to commence a full investigation and forensic and/or value-for-dollars audit of the NPCA’s operations.
Those motions were followed up this past December 15th with one from the council for the City of Hamilton, which has areas of watershed within its municipal boundaries that the NPCA is supposed to show some care for, renewing a call it made to the Ontario government more than a year ago, not only for a full audit, but for a change of management at the Conservation Authority.
And word has it that at least a few more Niagara municipal councils will come forward with motions to the province before the end of this year for an NPCA investigation.
Yet it hasn’t been a completely bumpy ride the NPCA this December.
There have been a few smooth spots on a road where a growing caravan ofcitizens is urging Ontario’s Premier and her government to make this Conservation Authority more open and responsive to their questions and concerns about the way it is hiring and firing staff, tendering contracts and conducting other matters in the name of protecting and preserving our region’s natural heritage.
One of those smooth spots came this December 6th, when April Jeffs, the mayor for Wainfleet and one of 13 Niagara regional councillors sitting on the NPCA’s 15 member board, tabled a motion at her township council, sending a request for an audit, not to the provincial government, but to the NPCA board – a direction Timms tried but failed to get the St. Catharines council to take on December 5th.
When the Wainfleet motion passed, the township issued a media release the following day containing the following words from the mayor – “No one has ever just gone and simply asked the NPCA for an audit,” Jeffs is quoted saying in the release. “They have asked other agencies, but not the NPCA itself.”
That statement remained true until this December 13th when a majority on the Niagara Falls council supported Timms’ call and Wainfleet’s direction as a municipality to ask the NPCA for an audit first.
The Niagara Falls council did so with the city’s mayor and NPCA board member Jim Diodati remaining engaged in the discussion rather than doing what Niagara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Patrick Darte did the night before, when a motion asking the province to launch an investigation and audit came before his council, and stand away from the debate due to the conflict of interest he felt he may have as a member of the NPCA’s board.
Imagine that, Darte went so far as to declare a conflict of interest!
It remains to be seen where that leaves Darte ranking on the list of team players on the NPCA’s board, but speaking of team players, let’s finish here with Timm’s December 8th letter of thanks to Wainfleet Mayor and fellow NPCA board member April Jeffs – a letter that subsequently made its way to Niagara Falls councillors this December 13th, before a majority of them voted “yes” to a motion very similar to the one passed by Jeffs’ council.
Here is the full text of that letter –
December 8, 2016
Mayor Jeffs, Township of Wainfleet
Dear Mayor Jeffs:
We acknowledge receipt of the resolution passed by the Township of Wainfleet Council at its December 6, 2016, meeting.
The motion that passed stated: That, Wainfleet Town Council request the NPCA Board to consider obtaining an independent third party audit, such as a value- for- money audit and/ or forensic audit, above and beyond their annual financial audits.”
I thank Mayor April Jeffs for her leadership in recognizing the proper process to prompt action on this matter by bringing a request directly to the NPCA Board. We, at the Board and staff level, are all interested in continuous improvement and welcome an open dialogue toward bettering our organization. I look forward to discussing this matter at our earliest opportunity, which is our January 18, 2017, Board of Directors meeting.
I take great pride in the high level of transparency and accountability that has already been achieved by the NPCA. We believe in fair and reasonable processes that embrace extensive public consultation.
We have engaged our community in several projects this year, including; Welland River Flood Plain Mapping, Living Landscape Policy Review, Cave Springs Management Plan, and the Lakefront Conservation Areas Master Plan. We have also made our Audited Financial Statements, Annual Reports, Quarterly Reports, and Board Meeting videos available on our website.
We remain committed to hearing the concerns of our community. I believe that consideration of this matter will further our transparency and accountability.
You may rest assured that the consideration of a third party value- for-money and/ or forensic audit will be addressed by our Board now that a direct request has been received.
D. Bruce Timms, Chair, Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority
Niagara At Large will have more news and commentary on the NPCA controversy in the days and weeks ahead. Stay tuned.
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