It’s Time for Regional Councillors to stand up for Niagara’s Taxpayers and Demand that the Ontario Ombudsman do an Independent Investigation – Now
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted August 11th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
If what The St. Catharines Standard is reporting in its Saturday, August 11th edition is true – and this journalist has no reason to believe it is anything but true – heads should already be rolling at Niagara regional headquarters. Never mind waiting for this October’s municipal elections.
And one of those heads should be that of Niagara Region’s Chair, Al Caslin.
For the past 22 months since Carmen D’Angelo, a former CAO at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, was hired to the CAO job at Niagara Region, virtually everyone – regional councillors included – believed (because of what they and the rest of us were told) that D’Angelo was hired under a contract that ran three years.
In other words, in 2019 – after a new Niagara regional council is elected this October and settled in – that council, preferably made up of many new players, would have the opportunity to decide whether or not to renew D’Angelo’s contract.
Now, after many weeks of being steeped in controversy over whether the process used to hire D’Angelo in October of 2016 was tainted or corrupted in some way, The Standard is reporting that some way or somehow, between the time D’Angelo was hired and now, the life of his contract was extended to the year 2021.
More disturbingly than that, this extension was apparently made without the knowledge of most, if not all directly elected councillors and without the knowledge of the mayors of Niagara’s 12 local municipalities who also hold a seat on the regional council.
The Standard reports this August 11th (August 10th, if you read the newspaper’s online version of this story) that the newspaper found out about this contract extension from Niagara regional councillors, who learned about it for the first time at a July 26th closed session of council that left this reporter and others, along with numerous members of the public who attended that council meeting, waiting out in the lobby.
Those councillors shared what they learned at the closed meeting on a promise that they would not be identified by name, since councillors are not normally supposed to divulge what is discussed in closed sessions of council.
I do not know who the councillors who chose to share this information with the public, through the local media, are. But as much as others on the council or Region’s senior staff may be infuriated with them or may wish to hunt them down and have them penalized in some way, I applaud them for having the courage and the principles to put the public’s right to know this important new information about the employment status of the Region’s chief administrator ahead of anything that may happen to them for speaking out.
What also came out of all of this, according to the Standard report, is that it could cost almost $1 million to send D’Angelo packing should enough councillors choose to terminate his employment at the Region.
It is outrageous enough that we are already dealing with questions and concerns around the process used to hire D’Angelo in the first place – questions and concerns that have so far not be fully answered through investigations a majority on the regional council have allowed D’Angelo and his staff to be involved in.
Now we read reports about this contract extension and a cost of nearly a million dollars of our tax money to buy D’Angelo out.
How and when did that happen, and who exactly is responsible?
Where in hell is the accountability to the public here? We elected people to sit on this regional council to make sure our money is being spent as responsibly as possible, and they are being kept in the dark?
This regional government is more than a billion-dollar-a –year operation. Who in hell is running it and why aren’t we being told what is going on?
I have been watching, reporting and doing commentary on one controversy after another dogging this Caslin-run regional council for almost four years now. And like many Niagara citizens I talk to or who contact me, I have lost patience with the number of councillors, including many of the mayors, who all but play dead and let Caslin and what has come to be known as his “cabal,” run the show.
There are now little more than 10 weeks left until Niagara residents go to the polls in the October 22nd municipal elections, and those who don’t stand up now and demand the heads of D’Angelo and others who have had anything to do with the mess our regional government has become do not deserve to be re-elected.
As for the report that it could cost close to $1 million to buy D’Angelo out of his job, as one of many thousands of Niagara residents who have to pay the final installment of this year’s property taxes at the end of August, I’m willing to see some of my money go for that too.
A million dollars would be a bargain if we can finally get away from going to meeting after council meeting dominated with all of the ill-conduct and controversy, and can finally get back to focus attention on creating good jobs in this region, building our public transit system, improving infrastructure in our communities, and a host of other issues for making Niagara better for all.
What our regional councillors should also be demanding is that Ontario’s Ombudsman come in as soon as possible and conduct an independent investigation of the circumstances around D’Angelo’s hiring – one that is free of any conflicts of interest so that the public can place trust in it.
Please do yourselves and your friends and neighbours in Niagara a favour and contact your representatives on the Region’s council, including your mayor, and demand they vote for the Ombudsman to come in and launch an investigation as soon as possible.
You can and should also contact the Ontario Ombudman’s Office and encourage the Office yourself to launch an independent investigation into this matter.
In recent days, some Niagara residents have informed me that the Ombudsman’s Office has so far been saying that it is standing back and monitoring the internal investigation the Region now claims it is doing.
Ombudsman Paul Dube needs more of us to call and convince him that we place little or no faith in the Region investigating itself on such a serious matter.
Here is the contact information for the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office –
Office Of The Ombudsman of Ontario
You can also phone the Office at 1-800-263-1830
Finally, some in our Niagara regional government, including some of our elected councillors, have been working to discredit the reporting of Grant LaFleche, in particular – a journalist at The Standard who has been breaking a number of stories about the CAO hiring controversy.
For what it’s worth, as a veteran reporter who has won more than a few provincial and national awards for stories I’ve done over the past 39 years, I believe Grant LaFleche, an investigative reporter at the paper, and Bill Sawchuk, who regularly covers the regional council for The Standard, have been producing thorough, responsible work on this important story – work that deserves the support of the whole community.
They are doing, without fear or favour, exactly what the news media should be doing – a public service and I applaud and support them. You should too.
To read the August 10th/11th story in The St. Catharines Standard, click on – https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news-story/8812461-is-niagara-region-cao-a-million-dollar-man-/ .
To hear an interview on this ongoing controversy with Standard reporter Grant LaFleche on Heart Radio 105.7 – http://www.iheartradio.ca/ez-rock/1057ezrock/st-catharines-standard-reporter-grant-lafleche-joins-rick-lori-1.5345398 .
(A Footnote from Doug Draper – I apologize in advance for any typos or glitches I missed correcting in the above post. It has been a very long day and my proof reader retired hours ago.)
Niagara At Large will have more news and commentary on the ongoing mess at the Region in the coming week.
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