We Need Ontario’s Ombudsman to Get to the Bottom of Questions Around the Hiring of the Niagara Region’s CAO – Now!

Letting The Region Do an Internal Investigation of this Serious Matter is like Letting the Fox look after the Hen House

A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper

Posted August 1st, 2018 on Niagara At Large

I know we just had Ontario’s Ombudsman in Niagara to deal with all of the malodorous antics around a mainstream newspaper reporter having his notes and computer seized before being ordered out of Niagara’s regional headquarters as if he were – as Trump might put it – an enemy of the people.

We need Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé to conduct a thorough, independent investigation of the CAO hiring controversy at Niagara Regional Headquarters. Anything less is to risk leaving the fox to look after  the hen house.

Yes, the Ombudsman, Paul Dubé, has come and gone over that one, and he has probably had more than his fill of the nonsense going on inside that headquarters building, just as many people who live in this Niagara region have.

But Mr. Dubé, we need you and your investigative team to come back – this time to get to the bottom of all of the unanswered questions around the hiring two years ago of Carmen D’Angelo who as CAO of Niagara’s regional government, holds nothing less than the highest and arguably most important municipal staff job in our region, at an annual cost to taxpayers of $230,000 plus benefits a year.

We need a responsible, independent party like the Ontario Ombudsman to get to the bottom of the serious question of whether or not the hiring process that was used in the fall of 2016 to hire a new CAO for the Region was tainted in D’Angelo’s favour.

This image was circulated on social media this August 1st by retired Niagara Regional Police officer and St. Catharines candidate for regional council, Peter Gill.

We need a party with no vested interests and nothing political at stake to do a thorough investigation or because – I’m sure that it is safe to say – a good number of taxpaying citizens in Niagara do not trust regional government employees, whose boss is D’Angelo, or a majority on the Region’s council to get to the bottom of that question themselves.

Following the publication this past April of an investigative report by St. Catharines Standard reporter Grant LaFleche, pointing to documents and sources close to the hiring process that one or more persons higher up in the regional headquarters may have sent then NPCA CAO Carmen D’Angelo information, including some key material in a “memo”, that would possibly have given him an advantage over other candidates for the Region’s CAO job, a majority on the council agreed to hire a lawyer to investigate.

However, that lawyer – Marvin Huberman of the Toronto law firm ADR Chambers – returned to the regional council this past July 5th with a 43-page report which at least some of us across Niagara with more questions than answers – in spite of Huberman’s over-riding conclusion that he could find nothing wrong with the way the hiring of D’Angelo went.

One could write another 43-page report critical of what Huberman admitted he did and didn’t do to reach that conclusion, but one of the things he didn’t do that troubles at least some of us who were there for his presentation the most is that he did not go to the servers that store information, including email sent back and forth to key players’ computers, to search for the memo or any other evidence there.

Questions and concerns remain about the integrity of the hiring process that led to Carmen D’Angelo getting the CAO job at Niagara Region in 2016

Why Huberman did not do this is, to say the least, a bit of a mind blower the mind. Quite frankly, it strains credulity.

Some offer the excuse that he only had a couple of months to probe the whole affair and put together his report, but he could not have used the powers he supposedly had under the Ontario Ombudsman’s Act, including powers of subpoena, to search servers for the Region or for the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) where D’Angelo’s worked at the time?

I can call the individuals who look after the server my computer is linked to and get them to download or fill my inbox with every email I have sent or received over the past three or four years within a matter of minutes.

This past July 26th, Standard reporter Grant LaFeche had published yet another lengthy investigative piece, this one headlined; “D’Angelo given CAO interview answers – Downloaded documents written by regional chair’s staff,” and that same day, the regional council – however reluctantly – passed a motion to look into the hiring controversy again.

This time, the council specifically called for a probe that includes a search of servers for any evidence D’Angelo was emailed information he shouldn’t have received while he was still a candidate for the job.

Only problem is – and despite a recommendation by Thorold regional councillor Henry D’Angela (that’s Councillor D’Angela with an ‘a’) that an independent person supervise the examination of information from the servers – we appear to be looking at regional government employees doing this probe, and guess who their boss ultimately is.

That’s right; their boss is Niagara Region’s chief administrative officer Carmen D’Angelo.

So how is that possibly going to work? And what kind of trust can Niagara citizens place in the outcome”

Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn is one of we don’t know how many who has approached the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office in recent days, asking the Office to conduct an independent investigation into the hiring of Niagara Region’s CAO

Even if the regional employees want to do the best job they can, on behalf of those of us who live and pay taxes here, to search those servers for evidence, how fair is it to ask them to go looking for evidence that is possibly damaging to the individual who has the power to hire and fire them?

The answer to that one should be a no brainer, even for all those regional councillors outside of a handful who have shown the courage and responsibility to stand up on behalf of their taxpaying constituents across Niagara and demand answers.

We need the e Office of Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé back in Niagara now to get to the bottom of this CAO hiring controversy.

There has never been a time in the almost 50 year history of Niagara regional government that such a cloud has hung over the office of the top administrative official responsible for sound and effective governance here.

It is a cloud we need lifted as soon as possible so that Niagara can move on to all of the many challenges that face us as we work to build a brighter, healthier, more prosperous future for all of us here

To get the Ontario Ombudsman back to investigate this matter, individuals and groups in this region need to contact his office and make complaint or share reasons why the Ombudsman must get involved.

Individuals or groups can approach the Ombudsman’s Office confidentially or can make their call for an Ombudsman’s investigation public, if they choose.

At least one individual who has publicly disclosed his call for the Ombudsman to come in is Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn, who sits on the regional council and has been one of the few on the council who has been demanding more answers.

“These ongoing reports and negative headlines (about the CAO hiring) are embarrassing for Niagara and is what’s broken at the Region,” said Augustyn in a July 26th news release on his call for an Ombudman’s probe. “If today’s (July 26th St. Catharines Standard) report is true, it shows deliberate efforts to manipulate the CAO hiring process by the current Chair’s political staff.”

If you or any other person or group you know which to file a request to the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office to investigate this affair, you can get started by clicking on the Office’s website at – https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/have-a-complaint .

Or use the following contact information –

Office Of The Ombudsman of Ontario      

Bell Trinity Square     483 Bay Street   10th Floor  South Tower,

Toronto, Ontario  M5G 2C9                    

Email     info@ombudsman.on.ca     

1-800-263-1830

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.

For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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