Niagara’s Regional Council Now Faces A Plan To Expand Board Of Directors From 15 to 19 Members
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted September 14th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – Niagara’s regional council is looking at a plan to increase the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s board of directors from 15 to 19 members.
The plan for adding another two members to the NPCA board from Niagara and two from the City of Hamilton is in the hopper. But at the suggestion of St. Catharines regional councillor Brian Heit, the Region’s council decided at its September 13th meeting to hold off giving the matter any further consideration until Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk releases her findings from a detailed audit her office has been conducting for several months now on the agency’s operations.
St. Catharines Regional Councillor Bruce Timms, a member and former chair of the NPCA, told the Region’s council this September 13th that the City of Hamilton, which contributes money to the NPCA’s budget and where the NPCA has some of the headwaters of the Niagara watershed under its jurisdiction, recently made a request to have the number of members that serve it on the board from one to three.
That request has propelled other members of the board – a majority of them regional councillors and mayors in Niagara – to propose that two more seats on the board be created for representatives from Niagara too – making for a total of four new seats on top of the current 12 for Niagara, two for Hamilton and one for Haldimand where the NPCA also has some jurisdiction over the watershed’s headwaters.
Timms said the plan on the table now calls for putting together a selection process and issuing public notices for candidates – in all four cases here, individuals who are not elected politicians and who have some experience in the conservation field – interested in sitting on the board.
Heit followed up with two suggestions that received the regional council’s approval – the first to let Andrew Sanction, a consultant the Region has already hired to review the Region’s governing structures, to look at this board expansion idea from a governance point of view, and to put off any further consideration until the audit on the NPCA is completed and released.
Ontario’s Auditor agreed to take a detailed look at the NPCA’s operations in the wake of more than a year of questions and concerns raised by individual residents and groups across Niagara, and by a majority of city and town councils, and provincial members of parliament in the region about the way the agency goes about hiring and firing staff, awarding contracts and other practices involving the expenditures of millions of dollars of our tax money.
Lysyk and her staff have recently met behind closed doors with the NPCA’s board to discuss the status of her office’s investigation and although she has been tight-lipped about the release of a final report, there is speculation that it will be relatively soon and that it will contain findings that are damaging to individuals inside the agency.
Further to concerns swirling around the NPCA and the way it does business with other parties’ money, eyes were raised across Niagara again this September following a story published in The St. Catharines Standard.
The newspaper reported that the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Foundation, the fundraising wing of the NPCA, has been spending such a high percentage of the funds it receives from donors – some 88 per cent of the total in the last year alone – on fundraising events, it is exceeding guidelines for such spending, set by the Canada Revenue Agency.
According to the Standard story, this excessive spending on fundraising events has been escalating for several years now and all on the watch of a six-person foundation board that has included Niagara regional councillors Bruce Timms of St. Catharines, Sandy Annuziata of Fort Erie, Grimsby regional councillor Tony Quirk and Pelham regional councillor Brian Baty.
Baty was quoted in a September 11th, online version of the story, saying he was “horrified” by the state of the foundation when became its chair in 2017 and is working to improve it.
He was “horrified” last year when he took over as chair?
How much attention was he paying to what the money was being spent on in the years he sat on the board before he became chair? Did he just wake up from a coma or something?
Since the Standard story’s publication, a number of people across the region have understandably wondered what kind of a message all this sends to parties that have donated money to the foundation, hoping that most of it would go to tree-planting, watershed improvement and other conservation projects?
Let’s hope that the Ontario Auditor’s report will help us get to the bottom of that too.
To read The St. Catharines Standard’s recent story about the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Foundation’s expenditures, click on – https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news-story/8894834-npca-foundation-spends-big-on-events/
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