“We have a very fine CAO in Carmen ‘D’Angelo. … We could not have found better and we tried very hard.” – Niagara Falls regional councillor Selina Volpatti
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted July 6th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – The verdict is in from a lawyer Niagara Region hired this April investigate charges swirling around the 2016 hiring of the Region’s chief administrative officer (CAO) Carmen D’Angelo.
Marvin Huberman, a Toronto lawyer who apparently had the powers of the Ontario Omdudsman’s Office, including the power to subpoena for evidence, stood before Niagara’s regional council this July 5th with a 43-page report that councillors were forced absorb on the fly because it had just been disclosed, while he outlines his findings, conclusions and recommendations.
In a nutshell, Huberman – retained by the Region to do the probe in the wake of an April 6th St. Catharines Standard story outlining what the newspaper described as a 2016 hiring process for the CAO job “tainted by backroom dealing and the violation of critical confidentiality rules – came to the conclusion that there was nothing wrong or tainted about the job selection process at all and that D’Angelo’s hiring was fair and square.
Huberman’s report and the clean bill of health it gave the hiring of the CAO received open praise from some on the council.
Niagara Falls regional councillor Selina Volpatti called his work “thorough” and “insightful,” and went on to say that Niagara’s regional government has “a very fine CAO in Carmen ‘D’Angelo.”
“We could not have found better,” Volpatti concluded, “and we tried very hard.”
A few on the council, including St. Catharines regional councillor Brian Heit, Thorold regional councillor Henry D’Angela and Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn, proceeded to probe for more information though on how and where Huberman went about gathering his findings.
A number of their questions focused on how thoroughly he explored what went on with, including the movement of a “memo” or a “list of talking points” (as it was sometimes called) that apparently contained some key information about the selection process, including the names and biographies of candidates for the $230,000 a year job.
According to allegations reported in The Standard story, this document may have found its way into D’Angelo’s hands and given him an unfair advantage while he was still working as CAO at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) and while the hunt for a final candidate for the CAO job at the Region was still weeks away from completion.
Huberman insisted that he found no hard evidence D’Angelo was given or received anything that gave him an unfair advantage and referring, in part, to The Standard’s April 6th investigative story, he dismissed most, if not all of the information that raised serious questions about the hiring as unfounded, or incomplete, or gossip or the like.
That appeared to be enough to get at least one member of the regional council, Bob Gale, who also chairs the Niagara Region’s police services board where he has aired criticism over the reporting of The Standard’s Grant LaFleche (the lead reporter on the April 6th story) before, to raise LaFleche’s name again and express his anger over the time and money (possibly more than $100,000, he said) he believes the Region has now wasted chasing the information in the reporter’s story.
“I felt that our integrity (as a regional government) was also being attacked,” said Gale, adding that he won’t do interviews with LaFleche as chair of the police services board.
“We reacted to a report from Grant LaFleche,” added Gale, “so we should apologies (to whatever harm may have been done to D’Angelo’s reputation or that of Rob D’Amboise, reportedly the author of the memo and Niagara Regional Chair Al Caslin’s policy director) or go after Grant LaFleche, and I am not sure it is going to happen.”
The regional council wrapped up its July 5th session on the Huberman report with a majority voting to accept the report and apologies to D’Angelo and D’Amboise.
They also voted to adopt, by this coming December 1st, a list of recommendations in the report, some of which focus on conduct issue and on the leakage of information to parties outside of regional staff and the council.
As for The Standard’s story, this reporter has no reason to believe that LaFleche and the newspaper were working with any other purpose than to inform the public on a matter of high importance around the hiring of the regional government’s top administrator.
If it is determined that mistakes were made in the coverage of that story Niagara At Large will certainly report on them here.
However, if and when LaFleche and the newspaper publish information that expands on the April 6th story, we will direct readers’ attention to that information too.
As an independent news outlet in the region, Niagara At Large will also be doing some digging of its own on this story which, given some of the questions raised by Heit, Augustyn, D’Angela and other councillors this July 5th,. Is not likely going to go away, however much a majority on the council have voted to put the matter to rest.
To use a line that is becoming a bit tired across the border in Trump-land, there is still a great deal to unpack here, including what more questions surface from a closer line-by-line analysis of the Huberman report alone.
So Stay Tuned.
You can read the Huberman report in Niagara Region’s July 5th council agenda, starting on page on page 25 of the agenda and continuing through to page 67 by clicking on – https://www.niagararegion.ca/council/Council%20Documents/2018/council-agenda-july-05-2018.pdf
To read Grant LaFleche’s April 6th story in The St. Catharines Standard – the story that sparked all of this – click on – https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news-story/8376169-special-investigation-region-s-cao-hiring-compromised-by-leak/ .
Just a brief footnote – Thorold regional councilor Henry D’Angela’s last name ends with an “a”, and is related in no way with the last name of the Region’s CAO, Carmen D’Angelo, that ends with an “o”.
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