“It boggles my mind. … I would think that you would want to do (a forensic audit) and see how you can improve your business.” – Thorold Regional Councillor Henry D’Angela
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted December 22nd, 2016 on Niagara At Large
“This is your tax money at work,” said Thorold regional councillor Henry D’Angela as he held up a full-page ad the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority recently paid for in a weekly regional newspaper, Niagara This Week.
Still holding up the ad, D’Angela noted that the Conservation Authority’s chair Bruce Timms, who is also a regional councillor for St. Catharines, claims that he would rather spend the money the NPCA receives from municipal taxpayers each year on planting trees and pollinator gardens.
“Well then what is the justification for spending money on this,” said D’Angela, adding that “ironically” the paper the NPCA ad is printed on uses up trees.
D’Angela pointed to the ad, used by the NPCA to defend itself against growing legions of critics, as just one more of a number of reasons why members of Thorold’s council, who he spoke to this past December 20th, should join councils for other Niagara municipalities and Hamilton in calling on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government to launch a thorough forensic audit and investigation of the NPCA’s operations.
It was a call that Thorold’s council ultimately said “yes” to, as did Welland’s council on the same December 20th evening, and it is one that was called for earlier this November by Welland MPP Cindy Forster (backed by Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates and St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley) in the wake of growing questions and concerns members of the public have been raising about the NPCA’s hiring and firing practices, its awarding of contracts, property deals and other matters.
One of the growing numbers of citizens raising concerns is Ed Smith, a resident of St. Catharines, who approached Niagara’s regional council this past spring, asking it if it could arrange a more thorough audit of the Conservation Authority – over and above a financial statement the NPCA issues each year that falls short of providing a detailed picture of how and where the body decides to spend public money.
The NPCA ad that Henry D’Angela held up to Thorold city councillors this December 20th ran on page two of each and every weekly paper Niagara This Week circulated under various banners across the region this past December 1st., It was published under a headline that read; a “Special statement from NPCA Chair Bruce Timms.”
In the statement, Timms clams, among other things, that a “document” produced by an “author” in the community that found its way into a media report and into the hands of Niagara regional councllors before a vote late this past October on hiring then NPCA CAO Carmen D’Angelo (absolutely no relation to Henry D’Angela) to the position he now occupies as Niagara Region’s CAO “contains falsehoods and fabricated documents.”
‘The fact of the matter is, the defamatory statements being made about the NPCA are baseless, false, and half-truths accompanied by misleading and fabricated information,” concludes Timms’ statement in the paid ad. “We will continue to do the good work we do as legislated by the province and continue to be a leader in transparency and accountability.”
Ed Smith, who has been threatened with a lawsuit by the NPCA for some of the information in the “document” Timms attacks in the ad, said during a press conference this November that he stands behind the accuracy of the information and will continue pressing the provincial government to get to the bottom of how the NPCA has been spending our money.
Speaking at the same Thorold council meeting Henry D’Angela did, Smith said he considers the NPCA’s threat of a lawsuit “a full frontal assault” against a citizen’s right to demand openness and accountability from publicly funded bodies.
Smith, a retired Canadian military officer, said he has used the province’s “freedom of information” legislation to make a numerous requests to the NPCA for information about untendered contracts it has award and other matters, and has often been turned down, forcing him to appeal to a provincial “privacy commissioner” to obtain information he believes any tax-paying citizens should have a right to.
D’Angela challenged a claim made in past weeks by Timms and by Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs, one of several municipal politicians sitting on the NPCA’s board, that until Jeff’s council passed a motion asking the NPCA to consider a forensic audit earlier this December, no one had gone directly to the NPCA and asked for an audit. Instead, requests have been going to the province.
D’Angela said requests for an audit have been made directly to representatives of the NPCA’s board through regional government staff and others. A majority of the 15 NPCA board members are also members of Niagara regional council – something that may, in and of itself, constitute “a conflict of interest” when NPCA matters are being by the council, D’Angela added – and the question of auditing the NPCA has been discussed at the regional level and turned down.
It was also turned down by a majority of regional councillors after Smith came as a delegation and asked for one last spring.
D’Angela, who runs his own business as a financial accountant, said he refuses to vote “yes” each year to transferring more than $7 million from Niagara’s tax payers to the NPCA while there is no forensic audit of the body.
“I don’t understand why (a forensic audit) isn’t happening,” said D’Angela. “It boggles my mind. … I would think that you would want to do it and see how you can improve your business.”
The Thorold regional councillor added that more recently, as MPP Cindy Forster and a number of municipal councils, including Pelham, Port Colborne and Niagara-on-the-Lake, along with the others mentioned above, have called on the provincial government to launch a full audit, Timms and the NPCA board have invited municipalities and others to direct their calls for an audit to them.
But D’Angela said he would place more trust in the province doing it rather than asking the NPCA to make arrangements to have one done on itself.
Besides, added D’Angela, the NPCA’s chair “is saying everything is fine (and) if he is saying everything is fine, what are they going to audit?
By the way, Niagara At Large contacted Niagara This Week’s ad department earlier this December and was told that a full-page ad like the one the NPCA took out featuring Timms’ “special statement” costs $4,459.00 if it goes region-wide. That is not to say that the NPCA may not have negotiated a better price for the ad than this going rate.
Whatever the cost, and this isn’t the first full-page ad the NPCA has taken out in Niagara This Week this fall (at least one other ran on October 27th), that could buy a number of trees or plants for pollinator gardens.
It was also noted at the Thorold council meeting that on top of the number of regional councillors who also sit on the NPCA board, one regional councillor – Dave Barrick of Port Colborne – also has a full-time management job at the NPCA.
Come on, Premier Wynne, let’s get going with a full audit and an investigation of this body.
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