“How many jobs could they have preserved with that money? How much of our environment could they have preserved with that money?” – Niagara Citizen Ed Smith
A News Commentary by Doug Draper, reporter/publisher, Niagara At Large
Posted January 25th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – After weeks of pressure from Niagara area citizens, municipal councillors and area MPPs to release the figures, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s board of directors finally voted this January 24th to disclose how much it spent in its attempt to sue St. Catharines/Niagara resident Ed Smith.
The figure the NPCA disclosed is $146,757 – money that comes large from a pool of tax dollars the Conservation Authority gets from Niagara’s 12 local municipalities, and taxpayers in the City of Hamilton and the Haldimand County area.
That amount is in addition to another $130,000 Ontario Judge James Ramsay recently ordered the NPCA to pay Smith to cover his costs in the court case.
“We now know that the NPCA has spent almost $300,000 for their actions against me – actions which Justice Ramsay rightfully described as actions intended to silence a citizen,” said Ed Smith in a statement shared with Niagara At Large. “How many jobs could they have preserved with that money? How much of our environment could they have preserved with that money?”
This past November 2017, Judge Ramsay ruled against defamation suits filed against Ed Smith, a retired Canadian Armed Forces officer, by the NPCA and its former CAO (and now CAO of Niagara’s regional government) Carmen D’Angelo.
The lawsuits were initiated by the NPCA board, made up mostly of area mayors and regional councillors appointed by Al Caslin’s regional government administration in the wake of Smith circulating a document listing concerns and questions about the way senior managers and board at the NPCA are spending millions of dollars of our tax money.
Those Niagara area politicians, appointed by a majority on Caslin’s regional council, currently sitting on the NPCA board include Fort Erie regional councillor Sandy Annuziata, Pelham regional councillor Brian Baty, St. Catharines regional councillor Bruce Timms, Grimsby Regional councillor Tony Quirk, West Lincoln Mayor Doug Joyner, Niagara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Pat Darte, Welland Mayor Frank Campion, Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs (who is running as the PC Party candidate for the Welland –Niagara Centre – Riding in this spring’s provincial election) and Port Colborne Mayor John Maloney. Port Colborne regional councillor David Barrick has a full-time administrative job at the NPCA as its director of corporate services.
Members of the public and some local municipal councillors in Niagara have been pressing the NPCA to disclose how much it spent on the failed suits against Smith for several weeks now.
This past December, St. Catharines’ city council passed a motion calling on the provincial government to appoint a special supervisor to take over management of the NPCA. The motion, tabled by veteran St. Catharines councillor Joe Kushner, included a demand to know how much the NPCA spent on its case against Smith.
This January 24th, at an NPCA board meeting, members of the board finally voted to release the figure. The Conservation Authority followed up with a media release, framing the disclosure of the dollar amount this way – “The NPCA and its Board made the decision to release the cost in the interest of transparency and accountability. This was always an exercise in correcting false and defamatory statements. The need to follow policy and provincial legislation is critically important, but in this instance, our responsibility to be fully transparent rises above that. I am proud of this Board and their decision to provide full disclosure,” said NPCA Board Chair Sandy Annunziata.
In his statement, Ed Smith stressed that there is nothing for the NPCA board to be proud of in the matter.
“The NPCA is a textbook example of governance run amok and unfortunately there is no sign of contrition or willingness to change,” Smith concluded. “That means it’s up to citizens to affect the required change. The next election is in October of this year.”
In the meantime, the NPCA’s expenditures of public tax dollars on legal actions against citizens in the region region are not yet over.
A lawsuit the Conservation Authority filed last year against Jocelyn Baker, a former NPCA employee managing watershed restoration projects in the region, remains outstanding. Baker was slapped with a $164,000 lawsuit for allegedly violating a non-disclosure agreement she signed when she left the NPCA by speaking out about concerns she had about alleged cases of workplace harassment at the agency.
Baker followed up with a counter suit against the NPCA for more than $400,000 for allegedly defaming her and breach of contract.
How much more of this agency is the public at large in this region going to take?
More on this and related matters around the train wreck that is regional government in Niagara later in NAL. Stay tuned.
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