We Need The Ontario Ombudsman A.S.A.P. To Help Clean Things Up
A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted August 24th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Whether we like him or not, we now face the possibility that the people of Niagara are saddled with Carmen D’Angelo as the Region’s CAO right in to the year 2022.
That may be the case unless the next term of regional council, to be sworn in following this coming October’s municipal elections, chooses to buy D’Angelo’s contract out for an estimated cost to Niagara taxpayers that could total a million or more dollars, given that the CAO is paid about $230,000 plus benefits per year.
And who do we, the residents of Niagara, have to thank for all this?
More than ever, the answer to that question appears to be the current Chair of Niagara’s regional council, Al Caslin, who confirmed at a special meeting of the council this August 23rd that he took it upon himself to unilaterally extend the length of D’Angelo’s contract, signed in the fall of 2016, to the year 2022 because – GET THIS! – Caslin said he thought “he was doing the right thing for the new council and for the Region as a “corporation”.
“It just made more sense to me,” Caslin told members of the council this August 23rd – councillors who were hearing for the first time in open session of Caslin’s decision to unilaterally grant D’Angelo, whose hiring is already the subject of serious controversy, a contract extension.
“Whether I had the authority or not, we can talk about that. If I didn’t, I apologize. I thought I was doing the right thing for the corporation in extending it to the new council session. … I am not trying to hide from it. If I made a mistake, I have no problem in owning up to it.”
Then – of all of the crap I heard at this special meeting of regional council – Caslin said he made this decision “without any malice.”
No malice? Really?
Well, how about contempt then?
How about contempt for the whole of regional council whose members were apparently kept in the dark about this contract extension until very recently?
And how about contempt for the tens of thousands of Niagara residents who voted for these councillors in the 2014 municipal elections, and who expect these councillors to have a hand when it comes to making wise decisions about things so serious as the hiring of a chief administrative officer of a billion dollars a year municipal corporation?
How much respect did Caslin show for them and how much did he show for the democratic process that places responsibility on him, as chair of the council, to conduct business in a way that is open and allows for debate or discussion with our elected representatives before decisions on matters as important as this are made.
This smacks more of an individual who is running our regional government – that is right, our regional government, NOT HIS! – like a dictatorship than a democracy that actively engages the people we elect to serve us.
Along with the lack of respect for the role of council, where does Caslin get off flavouring this contract extension as some sort of a favour to a future council when, just this past winter, it was learned that he, as a member of Niagara’s regional police services board, and two other regional councillors on that board, Bob Gale of Niagara Falls and David Barrick of Port Colborne, decided not to move forward with an extension of now former Niagara Police Chief Jeff McGuire’s contract to 2020 – a decision that cost Niagara’s taxpayers at least $870,000.
When earlier this year, regional councillors questioned that decision, some of Caslin’s allies on the council argued that those who sat on the police board in the last term of council, including Thorold regional councillor Henry D’Angela and the Region’s former chair Gary Burroughs, had no business extending the life of McGuire’s contract in the final months of that term.
Yet somehow it is okay for Caslin to extend the life of D’Angelo’s CAO contract before this term of council draws to a close.
And somehow we are supposed to make sense of some of the same councillors who dumped on Burroughs and D’Angela over the extension of the police chief’s contract, now dumping on whoever else on the council may have leaked information to the media about the extension of the CAO’s contract.
Some of these councillors, including Barrick, Tony Quirk of Grimsby and Selina Volpatti of Niagara Falls, argued these leaks of information that was apparently discussed late this July in a closed session of council, are “so grievous” and are such a violation of rules of non-disclosure governing closed meetings, that they, along with questions about the integrity of the process used to hire D’Angelo to the CAO job in the first place, should be investigated by Ontario’s Ombudsman.
I have no idea who may have leaked information to, in this case, The St. Catharines Standard, about the extension of D’Angelo’s contract, but whoever they are, I believe they have performed a public service.
Without the leaks and the media reports that followed, we – the people who pay D’Angelo’s salary, still might not know about the extension of his contract.
And why not?
If Caslin really believes the extension was such a good idea, why didn’t he use a news release coming out of his office or one of the many opportunities he has to make announcements at the beginning of a regional council meeting to disclose it himself, along with why he feels it is good for the public he is supposed to serve?
To wait until information about the contract extension is leaked out is to amply a concern many Niagara residents already have that our elected councillors are being kept in the dark while too much of the regional government’s business is decided by a handful of people behind closed doors
I’ve talked to a few regional councillors since the August 23rd special meeting who question whether Caslin truly has the singular authority to extend D’Angelo’s contract when it took a majority on the council to pass a bylaw approving the contract in the first place.
That is certainly a question that should be investigation by Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube if and when he agrees to take up the a request to him, approved by the council at the August 23rd meeting, to investigate the integrity of the process used to hire D’Angelo.
That call for the Ombudsman to investigate the hiring controversy has also been made by many residents across the Niagara Region, by a motion tabled by Niagara Falls city councillor and mayoralty candidate Kim Craitor and supported by the Niagara Falls council recently, and on this August 24th, by Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch.
If you wish to join in the call on the Ombudsman to get to the bottom of questions around the hiring of D’Angelo and the extension of his contract by Caslin, here is the contact information for the Ombudsman’s Office –
Office Of The Ombudsman of Ontario
Toronto, Ontario M5G 2C9
Join the growing numbers of Niagara residents calling for the Ombudsman to address this ongoing controversy as soon as possible.
As many of those who have already approached the Ombudsman have already said, there is no way public trust and confidence in our regional government can be restored until an independent party gets to the bottom of this serious matter.
One of the biggest favours anyone could do for the next regional council is to clear the air around this controversy as soon as possible.
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