Niagara Niagara MPP Cindy Forster applauds NPCA for decision to finally engage Ontario Auditor General

In a letter, Forster also seeks assurance no records will be destroyed prior to audit

“Given the existing climate and the interest of the Auditor General in providing public assurance to our communities, I trust that the board fully appreciates the importance of retaining any and all pre-existing documents.”                          – Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster

A letter to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority from Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster, with a Brief Foreword from NAL publisher Doug Draper

Posted April 26th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

A Brief One from Doug Draper

Niagara, Ontario – At a meeting this April 26th of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s board of directors, St. Catharines regional councillor and board member Bruce Timms (until this past January the board’s chair) tabled a motion that commits the NPCA to destroying none of its records until an audit is performed – possibly by Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s office – on its books.

A meeting of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s board of directors, File photo by Doug Draper

Timms’motion was approved by the 15 member board – 11 of which are Niagara regional councillors and mayors of area municipalities – in the wake of concerns raised by numerous area residents, Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster and Ontario Public Service Employees Union president Smokey Thomson, whose union represents more than 20 NPCA employees, that managers at the Conservation Authority might destroy internal documents before a thorough audit is done of the body and before any and all court actions and wrongful dismissal complaints are dealt with.

Timms told fellow board members he received a number of “sincere concerns from the public that we would dispose of documents before the audit is completed,” adding that the intent of his motion “is to put people at ease that there will be no destruction of documents” before an audit is completed.

Sandy Annunziata, a Fort Erie regional councillor who was appointed by the board to take over as its chair this past January, insisted that a proposed policy the board is in the process of considering – a so-called ‘Record Retention and Disposition Policy” – “is a document retention policy, not a document destruction policy.”

Growing numbers of Niagara area residents, municipal councils in Niagara and Hamilton, and MPPs representing ridings in the Niagara and Hamilton areas have been calling for a thorough audit of the NPCA in the wake of ongoing concerns and questions raised over the NPCA’s hiring and firing practices, its awarding of contracts to private parties and others matters involving the spending of millions of dollars of public money.

A majority of those calling for an audit of the NPCA made it clear they want to see it performed by a party independent of the Conservation Authority itself but in recent weeks concerns have been raised that a bid pushed by one NPCA board member – :Lincoln regional councillor Bill Hodgson – to ensure an independent audit was being compromised by the Conservation Authority’s upper management.

Many citizens, local councils and MPPs pressed the NPCA in recent weeks to accept an offer from the Ontario Auditor General’s office to perform the audit.

Earlier this April, at a special meeting of the NPCA board, board members finally agreed to abandon an RFP it is preparing to do an audit – what it called an “operational review” – and to engage the Ontario Auditor General in the whole matter.

The following is a letter Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster sent to acting NPCA CAO Peter Graham and the board earlier this April 26th, before Timms’ motion not to destroy or dispose of any documents was tabled and approved.

Mr. Graham:

Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster

I’m writing to applaud the NPCA’s recent decision to withdraw its Request for Proposal (RFP) for an external audit and instead, agree to engage with the Ontario Auditor General’s office and ensure that the principles of accountability and transparency, long sought after by our communities, are met. I’m pleased to see that the mounting public pressure from both community and from elected officials from across political stripes has inspired a decision to move in the right direction.

I was also pleased to see the implementation of a record retention policy come to light at the NPCA board’s March 29th 2017 meeting. Standardizing record retention and disposal practices is standard practice across public and private organizations of any size. To see the NPCA board meet its organizational counterparts in this area is a step I applaud.

I am, however, concerned about the omission of retroactivity guidelines in the policy as it’s currently written. Could you provide assurance that pre-existing records would be subject to the same protections laid out in the proposed policy direction? Especially given the existing climate and the interest of the Auditor General in providing public assurance to our communities, I trust that the board fully appreciates the importance of retaining any and all pre-existing documents in this regard. Further, per Appendix A, there appears to be an omission on the minimum requirement on time that HR documents be retained. Was this too inspired by standard practice?

I’m hopeful that the decision to engage with the Ontario Auditor General’s office will go a long way in restoring our communities’ faith in the NPCA board and bring forward the accountability and transparency that our communities have long called for. I would regret to see the process be inhibited as a result of unintentionally omitting a retroactivity clause that risks having the very records that would potentially be of most interest to the Auditor General no longer be available. 

I look forward to your timely response and reassurance.

Sincerely: Cindy Forster, Welland Riding MPP”

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater binational Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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