Niagara’s Citizens Can – And Should – Still Call On Ombudsman’s Office To Do Independent Investigation
A Brief News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted April 17th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
It all went down rather neatly, didn’t it? Almost as if the fix was in before this past Thursday, April 12th meeting of Niagara’s regional council even got started.
For this reporter, it was reminiscent of the shot gun meeting of the council Niagara’s regional chair, Al Caslin, scheduled for a Monday in the fall of 2016 for a vote to hire Carmen D’Angelo to the position of CAO (chief administrative officer) of our billion-dollars-a-year regional government operations in the first place.
In that case, there was what has become the usual flurry of worry and concern (to put it mildly) among more than a few members of the public and among too few regional council members when it became known that D’Angelo – who was CAO at a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) already surrounded in controversy – was the one and only name being put forward for the regional council’s approval. Yet, without very much surprise, his hiring was approved by a vote of 17 to 8, with five regional councillors not showing up for the vote at all.
In this case, there was a big investigative story in The St. Catharines Standard, published in its paper edition on Friday, April 6th, followed by quite a bit of public fury over allegations the story exposed about D’Angelo possibly having access to confidential information about other candidates for the CAO job well before his selection.
There were a number of directly regional councillors across Niagara expressing concern over the revelations too. And in the middle of all the upset, there was St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik (who like other Niagara mayors, has a set on the Region’s council) publicly calling for an “independent investigation” of the matter, followed by Caslin putting regional councillors on notice, via email, that he wanted to see a vote in favour of a probe too.
There was some discussion among members of the public and council before the April 12 meeting that the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office should be called in to do the investigation.
There was also some hope that Caslin, whose office may have been a source of any confidential information seen by D’Angelo) would declare a possible conflict of interest and allow Thorold regional councillor Henry D’Angela (no relation to D’Angelo), whose turn it was this April to stand in for the regional chair, to take the helm while council deliberated over what to do.
But on meeting night, Caslin stayed in his seat while Sendzik took the floor to table his motion. We then very quickly learned that the regional staff had already looked up three bodies that might investigate the matter, and had concluded that the best option might be a firm from the Toronto area – ADR Chambers Canada – that is already under contract with Niagara’s regional government to look into code of conduct complaints.
A handful of regional councillors got up to suggest the Ombudsman’s Office as another option, but they got mixed noise from regional staff as to whether this particular case, involving the hiring of an administrator, is one the Office is legislated to look at.
In the end, a majority of the councillors voted in favour of ADR doing the probe – a decision that continues to trouble at least some members of the public and at least one regional councillor.
In a brief interview this April 15th, Thorold regional councillor Henry D’Angela said he was feeling “very frustrated” that more regional councillors did not vote against ADR, and did not fight harder to get the Ombudsman’s Office involved instead.
“We need a truly independent body looking into this,” D’Angela said.
Indeed, the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office has already been leading up the investigation into circumstances surrounding St. Catharines Standard reporter Bill Sawchuk’s computer and notes being temporarily confiscated from him at the Niagara regional headquarters last December.
Investigators for the Office have reportedly contacted virtually every member of regional council, numerous members of regional staff, and other members of the media and public who were there that December evening and witnessed some or that entire troubling event.
So why shouldn’t the Office, which has also apparently learned quite a bit about the current atmospherics at the Region through that probe, do this investigation as well.
Why shouldn’t we at least approach the Office and ask?
The answer is that any one of us – and that means any and all citizens of this Niagara region too – can and should approach the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office for a truly independent investigation into the questionable circumstances surrounding the hiring of an individual to what is arguably the most important government job in Niagara.
We can all call upon the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office to do a probe of its own on this matter now.
Here are links you can click on now, to find out more about the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office and how you can call upon the Office online to initiate an investigation –
- To find out more about Ontario Ombudsman’s Office, click on – https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/home .
- To file a complaint to the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office, click on – https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/have-a-complaint/make-a-complaint .
To read some related news and commentary posted on this issue, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2018/04/07/niagara-regional-chair-cao-have-a-lot-of-answering-to-do-2/ .
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