‘The environment at the NPCA has been very difficult on myself and my family, and I have to think of my family and my health.” – Lincoln Regional Councillor and now former NPCA board member Bill Hodgson
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted May 17th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
Well now they won’t have Bill Hodgson to kick around anymore.
For those of you who have not been following the scary clown show, the “they” I am referring to are the honchoes running the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and Bill Hodgson is Lincoln regional councillor and now a former member of the NPCA’s board of directors.
This May 17th, before the this month’s morning meeting of the NPCA’s board got underway, Hodgson tendered his immediate resignation from the board – just two weeks after a majority on the board, including a number of other regional councillors and mayors of local municipalities in Niagara, angered citizens across the region with news that they had decided to censure him for conduct related to his months long call for a third-party, independent audit of the NPCA’s operations.
“It has been extraordinarily upsetting and I saw no other option than to resign,” Hodgson told this Niagara At Large journalist during a brief phone call following his delivery of a letter of resignation, to the NPCA board, Niagara regional chair Al Caslin and the council for his local municipality of Lincoln.
“I can only say that the environment at the NPCA has been very difficult on myself and my family,” he added, “and I have to think of my family and my health.”
Hodgson, who has served in public office for 24 years going back to his elections on school boards, his years as the Town of Lincoln’s mayor and currently as a regional councillor for Lincoln, has earned a reputation among countless people across Niagara as a dedicated representative who has served with honesty and integrity.
He has also recently emerged as an almost singular voice of dissent on an NPCA board that makes decisions involving millions of dollars of mostly municipal tax money and has faced ongoing criticism for more than a year now over its hiring and firing practices, its awarding of contracts and other matters, including a lawsuit it recently launched against Niagara citizen Ed Smith, who has been raising questions and concerns about the way the NPCA does business.
Numerous citizens, area MPPs and a majority of municipal councils in Niagara and Hamilton have called for a full investigation and audit of the NPCA but aside from Ontario’s Auditor General, the province’s Wynne government and its Natural Reources Minister Kathryn McGarry, whose minister oversees an Ontario Conservation Act that created conservation authorities across the province to begin with, have demonstrated no interest in intervening in the controversies swirling around the Conservation Authority at all.
In fact, McGarry sent a letter to municipal councils in Niagara and Hamilton last December, informing them to take their call for an audit to representatives on the NPCA board before, weeks later, having her photograph taken at a gathering of municipal leaders in Ontario with NPCA board chair Sandy Annunziata.
Annunziata sent a letter to Caslin, the Niagara regional government’s chair, this past May 1st, informing him of the NPCA board’s move to censure Hodgson.
In the letter, Annunziata stated that an investigation conducted by a law firm retained by the NPCA “found that(Hodgson) violated the Board of Director’s Code of Conduct” by allegedly attempting to influence an RFP process (to perform an audit) with what the letter referred to as “an implicit endorsement in favour of a potential bidder” on the audit work.
“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,” Annunziata’ letter said.
Okay, now this journalist is going to end with this.
In the more than 35 years I have covered public affair in Niagara, at daily and weekly newspapers and magazines, and on a freelance basis, Bill Hodgson is one of the most honourable individuals I have observed in politics in this region.
Citizens and the media were not made privy to any legal document resulting from this so-called “investigation” of Hodgson’s conduct and we were kept out of the meeting room this past April, on the other side of glass doors with sheets of paper taped over them so we could not see while the NPCA board had Hodgson inside, subjecting him to whatever roasting one receive before being censured.
In my view, the way this was done and the fact that it was done to such a decent person in the first place is disgusting and those responsible, including the Niagara regional councillors and mayors who participated, ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Since that disgusting episode, the NPCA’s now acting CAO Mark Brickell and its director of corporate services, David Barrick, co-signed a recommendation for a new code of conduct that among other things, would have the likes of Brickell and Barrick, requiring total loyalty from members of the board.
The draft document directs board members to “demonstrate unconflicted loyalty to the interests of the NPCA. ….”
“This accountability,” the document continues,” supersede any conflicting loyalty such as that to advocacy or interest groups and membership on other boards.”
Keep in mind that this drafted code of conduct, which reads, in part, like a totalitarian sheet, is directed at a board of directors made up of mostly regional councillor and mayor of local municipalities whose main loyalty, many may argue, should be to the thousands of residents in their communities who elected them – not to a handful of high-paid bureaucrats.
Interestingly enough, Barrick, who co-signed the document, is also a regional councillor for the City of Port Colborne who has voted repeatedly against hiring an integrity commissioner to rule on code of conduct complaints at the regional government level because, in part, it might inspire some to use the process to conduct political “witch hunts.”
So now we have the departure of Bill Hodgson from the NPCA board in the wake of a move to use the Conservation Authority’s code of conduct to censure him, and we have a new draft of the code that is more draconian than any code councillors at the regional government level have ever approved.
If there is any consolation, enough members of the NPCA board decided this May 17th that the drafted code of conduct goes too far to have it sent back to the drawing board.
Could it be that it dawned on some of those board members who are mayor and regional councillors that there are municipal elections next year?
Given the conduct of the record of this NPCA board over the past couple of years, it may be too late for many of the elected politicians on it to show a change of colours now.
Rest assured that voters will be reminded who they are and how they responded to the many calls for a full investigation and an audit of NPCA operations, to moving ahead with a lawsuit against a private citizens and other matters that have triggered so much public controversy over the past few years.
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