“The NPCA Board of Directors has a duty to demand from its members integrity and honesty at all times when conducting the important business of the Authority. We will continue to observe and uphold our legislative and fiduciary responsibility.” – NPCA board chair and Fort Erie regional councillor Sandy Annunziata in a May 1st letter to Niagara regional chair Al Caslin, relaying board’s decision to censure Bill Hodgson.
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted May 2nd, 2017 on Niagara At Large
I got the information I’m about to post earlier this May 2nd and I have to admit, dear readers, I had to stop and take some deep breaths before I began writing this.
So let me start with a few words that may help put the crap that is coming down on Bill Hodgson in context.
Along with 30 or so other citizens from across this Niagara region, I travelled to Ball’s Falls in Lincoln this past April 26th for a monthly board meeting of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, only to find – for the second month in a row – the doors shut tight for a “closed session” of a board meeting the NPCA had listed on its website for a starting time of 9:30 a.m.
It is bad enough that we had to wait for more than an hour outside doors with broadsheets of paper taped over them so we couldn’t see in before we – the people who pay the taxes that fund this body – were finally let in. On other doors leading in to the building where the meeting was held, signs were taped up with the NPCA’s name and logo on them that read; “Aggressive or intimidating behaviour, harassment or course language will not be tolerated.”
Some of the people I waited with were feeling a might bit insulted by the message on these signs which, in all of my more than 30 years of reporting on meetings, I’ve never seen greeting citizens on a public building in this region. Perhaps it’s a message that should be aimed at some of our elected politicians if the conduct I’ve been witnessing over the past few years at regional council meetings is any example.
And speaking of our politicians’ conduct, now we know that one of the items NPCA board members – 11 of the 15 of which are regional councillors and mayors of local municipalities – were dealing with this April 26th while those doors were closed involved taking a here-to-for, unheard of step in the 58-year of this Conservation Authority of censuring one of its members, Lincoln regional councillor Bill Hodgson.
That’s right, a majority of the board members who were present, including municipally elected Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, Port Colborne Mayor John Maloney, West Lincoln Mayor Doug Joyner, and regional councillors Bruce Timms of St. Catharines, Brian Baty of Pelham and Sandy Annunziata of Fort Erie, approved items from that closed door session – one of which called for sending a letter to Niagara’s regional chair Al Calsin to censure Hodgson.
Out of fairness to other area politicians who sit on the board and were present this April 26th for all of this, Welland Mayor Frank Campion, Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs and Niagara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Pat Darte voted no to the report containing the move to censure Hodgson.
Hodgson, as those of you who have been following the ongoing NPCA controversy may already know, tabled a motion at a board meeting this past January in the wake of mounting pressure from area citizens, MPPs and town and city councils in Niagara and Hamilton for a full, third-party, independent audit of the NPCA’s operations.
The motion was approved by the board, but within weeks Hodgson found himself butting heads with other board members and NPCA administrators for expressing concerns that a so-called “project team” the Conservation Authority put in place to make arrangements for an audit or what it had taken to calling an “operational review” was compromising the motion’s original intent.
At a special meeting of the board this March, Hodgson bowed to a call from Annunziata to apologize for using the term “weaseled down” while repeating his concern that his motion was being changed in ways that would not satisfy members of the public that an audit would be free of any interference from NPCA staff and board members.
Things since that March meeting only seem to have grown more tense, right up to and including this May 1st, when the following letter was circulated by Annunziata in his capacity as chair of the NPCA board to Niagara regional chair Al Caslin and other elected representatives in the Niagara, Hamilton and Haldimand areas encompassing the Niagara watershed the Conservation Authority is supposed to be a steward of –
“May 1, 2017
Chair, Alan Caslin
1815 Sir Isaac Brock Way
PO Box 1042
Thorold, ON L2V 4T7
Dear Chair Caslin:
Regrettably, I write to inform you of a breach of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) Code of Conduct by a Board Member appointed by the Regional Municipality of Niagara.
At the Full Authority Board Meeting on April 26, 2017, I presented the findings of a third-party investigation into the actions of Member Bill Hodgson. The investigation conducted by Gowling WLG LLP found that Mr. Hodgson violated the Board of Director’s Code of Conduct, specifically
Article 7.0, Influences on Staff.
The Board policy states that, “Members shall be respectful of the fact that staff work for the whole corporation and are charged with making recommendations that reflect their professional expertise and corporate perspective, without undue influence from any individual member or faction.”
The findings of the Gowlings Investigation were that the actions of Member Hodgson “could potentially and reasonably be seen by an objective observer as an attempt to influence the RFP Process as an implicit endorsement in favour of a potential bidder.”
Furthermore, the legal opinion provided that the Board of Directors “acting in their legislative and fiduciary capacity, that they may reasonably conclude on these facts and exercising their best judgment, that a breach of their Code of Conduct has occurred. In such event, it is open to the Board of Directors to adopt a Motion to Censure Member Hodgson for such conduct in accordance with Appendix A, Article C, or ‘conduct unbecoming of a Board Member in the fulfillment of his/her [NPCA] duties.'”
As you are aware by now, the direct result of this breach, caused the Board to halt and immediately abandon an ongoing RFP process. As indicated in the Gowling WLG report, this was “a reasonable step in these circumstances.”
The NPCA Board of Directors has a duty to demand from its members integrity and honesty at all times when conducting the important business of the Authority. We will continue to observe and uphold our legislative and fiduciary responsibility. As such, at its April 27, Full Authority Board
meeting, the Board voted to censure Member Hodgson for his actions. On behalf of the Board, I am expressing our severe disapproval for Member Hodgson’s actions and his contravention of the Code of Conduct.
The NPCA Board will not turn a blind-eye to improprieties or any Code of Conduct violations. I am proud that our members have decided to respond with condemnation and have chosen not to tolerate indecencies such as this.
Chair, NPCA Board of Directors
cc: Niagara Regional Council,
Mayor Fred Eisenberger, and Council
Mayor Ken Hewitt, and Council
Mayor Sandra Easton, and Council.”
Back to this journalist again with a few final words before I end this post.
It is unclear from this side what fate awaits Bill Hodgson now.
He told me during a quick call to him this May 2nd that he has been advised not to comment on this matter at the moment.
However, what is clear to this journalist is this.
In all of the hundreds of municipal, provincial and federal politicians, I have covered or had some contact with since I started my first professions job as a journalist at the St. Catharines Standard in 1979, Bill Hodgson, who served for years as a trustee on one of Niagara’s major school boards and later as mayor of Lincoln, and currently as a regional councillor, is right up there in the upper tier of people who has served in those positions with an honesty and integrity that is unimpeachable.
He has earned a respect with members of the public across this region that cuts across partisan lines and never waivers, even at times when there are differences of opinion on issues, because people know this guy has a well-working moral compass and his heart in the right place.
So let whoever or whatever do all the censuring they want, there is no way the vast majority of people in this region are going to stand back and watch a good person like Bill Hodgson get pissed on.
At the end of it all, those who do the pissing will rue the day.
More on this and related NPCA matters in the days and weeks ahead.
Read a related story on this issue by clicking on – https://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/7272546-npca-board-votes-to-censure-member-bill-hodgson/ .
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