Regional Councillor’s Upcoming Motion Calls for Full Disclosure of Costs of Staff Buyouts at Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority
Call On Your Niagara Region Representatives A.S.A.P. To Support This Motion for Public Disclosure
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted February 27th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – At least one Niagara regional councillor is determined to get full disclosure on how much of tax money was used by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority to deliver buyouts possibly more than two dozen NPCA employees that have been retired, fired or otherwise sent packing over the past four or more years.
Brian Heit, a regional councillor from St. Catharines, will be tabling a motion at this coming Thursday, March 1st meeting of the council calling for such a disclosure.
The motion, as worded, calls on the Conservation Authority to “submit the 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 costs associated with severance including but not limited to severances, wages paid, wages paid in lieu of notice, retirement packages, arbitration, personnel court cases, bonuses, and damages to Regional Council by June 6th, 2018.”
In an interview with Niagara At Large this February 26th, Heit said he feels that his motion makes a perfectly appropriately request of another one of the agencies, boards or commissions Niagara’s regional government is a significant funder of, especially given the recent disclosure of the $870,000 retirement package the Niagara Police Services Board agreed to pay out last year to the Region’s now former police chief Jeff McGuire.
“In light of what we found out about what took place at the Niagara Police Services Board – another A,B,C (one of the agencies, boards and commissions) or ours – where some of us were shocked (over the size of the retirement package for the former police chief), when it is our understanding that he did not want to go,” said Heit, “I believe we need to know what has been going on at the NPCA when it comes to the firing, retiring or the parting ways of staff.”
“We should be given information on how much it all costs.”
Questions and concerns about staff turnover at the NPCA, including how much it is all costing taxpayers, have been raised in recent years by growing numbers of Niagara citizens, by a majority of local councils in Niagara and by Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) executives representing some of the Conservation Authority’s employees.
Along with concern about the costs, questions have been raised about the possibility of staff being let go for no other reason than their experience and dedication to core interests in the fields of conservation, and watershed restoration and protection.
When Heit served notice this past February 21st at a meeting of the Region’s corporate services committee that he would introduce the motion for disclosure of costs of staff buyouts at the NPCA, Grimsby regional councillor Tony Quirk, who was chairing the committee meeting and who also sits on NPCA’s board, said he will be seeking to amend the motion with a request for similar cost information from local municipalities around buyout or severance packages for their staff.
Heit told NAL he has already made up his mind how feels about that idea.
“It would be an amendment I would not accept as part of my motion,” said Heit, adding that those costs are covered by local municipalities, and are therefore the business of local municipalities and the people they represent.
In that spirit, let’s get back to the motion at hand and find out if the NPCA’s board of directors – 10 of who are appointed members of Niagara’s regional council – are the champions of openness and transparency as they so frequently claim to be.
There is an Ontario Auditor General’s review of the NPCA’s operations going on right now, and that might ultimately tell us how much staff buyouts have cost taxpayers in recent years. But why wait for that?
Just be up front and make the case for an argument the board’s chair, Fort Erie regional councillor Sandy Annuziata and other area councillors and mayors on that board have put forward when others have argued that we need to appoint fewer politicians and more citizens with a background in conservation or environmental protection to the board.
Prove to us that it is better to have elected politicians appointed to the board because, as your argument goes, they are more accountable to the people, by disclosing how much we, the people, have paid for what could add up to more than two dozen buyouts over the past four years.
Heit will be tabling his motion for approve this coming Thursday, March 1st and one thing you can do as a citizen of Niagara is contact your representatives on regional council as soon as possible by email or phone and demand that they support this motion. Make it clear that taxpayers have a fundamental right to know how much of our money has been spent on all of these staff buyouts.
For information on who your regional councillors are and contact information for them, click on the following link –– https://www.niagararegion.ca/government/council/profiles/default.aspx .
For our reader’s information, here is the full text of motion St. Catharines regional councillor Brian Heit plans to table –
Whereas a significant number of Niagara Residents and Local Area Municipal Councils have come forward and expressed concerns over the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s finances, operations, and business dealings;
Whereas a significant number of Niagara Residents continue to come forward and express concerns over the excessive retirement packages for former employees of the Region and our ABC’s;
Whereas the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority developed a Strategic Plan in 2014 to guide the organization in the future;
Whereas the 2014-2017 Strategic plan states the importance of Transparent Governance and Enhanced Accountability;
Whereas the Strategic Plan looked at a number of internal processes and staff changes to meet customer needs and deliver regulatory services;
Whereas in the past 4 years the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s restructuring has resulted in dozens of staff being fired, retiring, quitting, contracts not being extended, & or otherwise released;
Whereas a number of these employees have received retirement packages, severance packages, as well as damages at great public expense;
Whereas the Niagara Region contributes over 82% of the Municipal Levy to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority;
Whereas the majority of the NPCA Board members are also members of Regional Government;
Whereas the NPCA chair has stated his commitment to openness, accountability and transparency;
Therefore be it resolved:
That Niagara Region request the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority submit the 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 costs associated with severance including but not limited to severances, wages paid, wages paid in lieu of notice, retirement packages, arbitration, personnel court cases, bonuses, and damages to Regional Council by June 6th, 2018.
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