If There’s Nothing Wrong, You’d Think Niagara’s Region al Chair Would Want To Call In Ontario’s Ombudsman Himself To Clear The Air
“To ask for another meeting less than two weeks later is nothing less than disingenuous politicking by the same few characters who have contributed the least this term of council.” – Niagara Regional Chair Al Caslin, in an August 12th, 2018 email to regional councillors
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted August 14th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
More than four months have passed since The St. Catharines Standard published a story that took reporter Grant LaFleche and others at the newspaper months to investigate and fact check.
It was a a story that raised serious questions and concerns about the integrity of the process in place to hire Carmen D’Angelo, in the fall of 2016, to the $230,000 a year job of chief administrative officer or CAO of a Niagara regional government responsible for services costing more than $1 billion of our tax money to operate each year.
The April 6th story, based on documents the newspaper obtained and sources it obviously could not name for fear of those people becoming targets of reprisals, alleged that D’Angelo, then CAO of a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) already facing intense public scrutiny, received information he should not have that may have given him unfair advantage over other candidates for the Region’s CAO job.
The information in question – information that reportedly included names of other candidates and at least some idea of what questions to expect during an interview for the job – allegedly originated from key individuals working for or around Chair Caslin.
Suffice to say, the Standard story created enough of a public stir ithat at least a handful of regional councillors, besieged with calls from upset constituents, came to the next meeting of the Region’s council with a request that Ontario’s Ombudsman be brought in to conduct a third-party, independent investigation of the hiring process.
As if they had anticipated this call for the Ombudman to come in, Caslin and what has become known to more than a few across Niagara as his cabal of hardcore supporters quickly pulled another idea out of the hat.
Their idea was to hire an outside lawyer that would be given the powers of the Ombudman’s Office to do the investigation. That lawyer, Marvin Huberman from Toronto, came back in early July with a 40-plus page report that councillors were not given the opportunity to see before it was presented at the council meeting.
Huberman’s report gave the hiring of D’Angelo a clean bill of health.
What disturbed at least some councillors and members of the public is that Huberman did not use the powers he apparently had under the province’s Ombudsman’s Act to subpoena documents and testimony from individuals, and he did not do an electronic probe of computer servers where he may have found email or messages forwarded through other venues that contained the kind of information The Standard reported in its April 6th story.
During his July 5th presentation to regional council, Huberman admitted that he found at lease some of what he was told by D’Angelo during his probe “improbable,” but ultimately accepted D’Angelo’s assurances that he did nothing wrong. At the same time, Huberman characterized the information reported in The Standard’s April 6th story as hearsay.
Much to the chagrin of the same handful of regional councillors who wanted the Ombudsman to come in in the first place, a majority on the council voted to accept Huberrman’s report and call the whole matter closed.
On July 26th, Standard reporter Grant LaFleche came back with another story about the whole hiring affair, containing even more details to back up allegations that D’Angelo received information he should not have had, and got it from one or more individuals right around the Region’s chair, while he was still a candidate for the CAO job.
And once again, a handful of more or less the same councillors called for the Ombudsman to come in, only to have the Caslin cabal sell a majority on the idea of letting regional staff search computer servers for the information in question, and for hard evidence of who may have sent and received it.
The regional staffers would be supervised by an outside expert on municipal governance – a veteran professor from the University of Western Ontario – who was already on deck to do a review of the Region’s governance structure.
If having this person now working on this probe with individuals who should not have anything to do with matters they may have had a hand in wasn’t enough, this same person then admitted in a media interview that he has no experience or expertise when it comes to searching servers for this kind of information.
Then some councillors told The Standard of something else they learned, much to their dismay, when for two hour, the council went into closed session this past July 26th.
These councillors reportedly learned that D’Angelo’s three year contract – the contract that was approved by a majority on council when he was hired in 2016 – has somehow been extended for another two years without the knowledge of the whole council.
That revelation alone appeared to be enough to motivate a slight majority on the council to sign a letter and send it to Caslin this August 12th, calling for a special meeting of council sometime this week to address questions around D’Angelo’s hiring again.
A total of 18 of the 31 who sit on the council signed the letter and they received the following reply, via email, from Caslin;
“Councillors – You all had 2 hours last meeting to speak candidly to Carm (D’Angelo). You grilled him for the entire time and agreed on a course of action in open session.
To ask for another meeting less than two weeks later is nothing less than disingenuous politicking by the same few characters who have contributed the least this term of council.
I encourage you to focus on the important community issues before us including: lowering taxes and bring quality jobs to Niagara.
I will not be calling another meeting to talk about the same tabloid stories that have already been thoroughly investigated and decided upon by a third party investigation that has cost the Taxpayers of Niagara dearly. Regards, Alan.”
Given all that has been unearthed and reported in the media over the past four months, one wonders why Caslin still doesn’t get why questions and concerns continue to swirl around the hiring of D’Angelo, and why so many members of the public do not have confidence that the Region can do an investigation on itself that might find wrong-doing in some of highest levels of office.
If nothing is seriously wrong, why would Caslin not simply approved calling the Ombudsman in last April to do an independent and thorough probe that would clear the air?
In his August 12th response to the 18 councillors, Caslin contends that their demand for another meeting into the matter would take time away from other “important community issues” the council should be focusing on.
That is patently absurd coming, as it does, from someone who chairs possibly the most dysfunctional and divisive council in Niagara Region’s almost five decade and who is in a far better position than you or I, or anyone else on that council, to do something about it.
This reporter and others, and countless members of the public across Niagara have watched this Caslin-led council erupt into one mud fight after another over the past four years – robbing huge amounts of time away from the important business it should be doing to make the the qualify of life for everyone across this region healthier and more prosperous.
I have never witnessed any other term of council, chaired by Gary Burroughs or Debbie Zimmerman or Brian Merritt, or anyone else going back for the past 39 years since if first began covering news in Niagara, engage in as much bad conduct that has nothing to do with the welfare of our communities than this one.
And who chairs this council? Where does the buck stop?
Caslin ultimately has to take responsibility for all of this, just as he was arguably on the best position on the council, right back at the beginning of this hiring controversy, to let the Ombudsman in to investigate it.
Instead, through this August 12th email to the councillors and through so much else he has said and done over the past four months, Caslin continues to act as though there may be something terribly serious to hide here. His words and his behaviour give rise to suspicions that some sort of cover-up is going on here.
All the more reason for members of the media to keep investigating this issue and for regional councillors and members of the public to continue calling on the Ontario Ombudsman for a full, independent investigation.
And this time, both Caslin and D’Angelo should recuse themselves and have nothing to do with steering any more council meetings in to this serious affair.
Here is a list, in the order they appeared in their August 12th letter to Caslin, of the 18 councillors who are demanding a special meeting which, as of the time of this posting, has not been scheduled yet –
The 18 councillors are Walter Sendzik, Mayor of St. Catharines; Sandra Easton, Mayor of Lincoln; Bob Bentley, Mayor of Grimsby; St. Catharines regional councillor Debbie MacGregor; Wayne Redekop, Mayor of Fort Erie; Dave Augustyn, Mayor of Pelham; Niagara on the Lake regional councillor Gary Burroughs, St. Catharines regional councillor Kelly Edgar, Welland regional councillor George Marshall, John Maloney, Mayor of Port Colborne; St. Catharines regional councillor Brian Heit,;Welland regional councillor Paul Grenier, Frank Campion, Mayor of Welland; Doug Joyner, Mayor of West Lincoln; Ted Luciani, Mayor of Thorold; St. Catharines regional councillor Tim Rigby, Thorold regional councillor Henry D’Angela, Lincoln regional councillor Bill Hodgson, and Pat Darte, Lord Mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake
To read one of St. Catharines Standard reporter Grant LaFleche’s latest stories on this matter, click on – https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news-story/8814307-all-the-chair-s-men-update-special-meeting-on-regional-cao-to-be-held-this-week/ .
To read an August 13th report from CKTB Radio on this issue, click on – http://www.iheartradio.ca/610cktb/news/local/update-calls-for-regional-chair-to-recuse-himself-for-special-meeting-of-council-1.5700117 .
Here is the letter the 18 members of Niagara Region council signed and sent to the Region’s Chair Al Calsin this August 12th –
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