Ontario Audit Report Shows That For NPCA Board Members, There Are Plenty of Nice Perks In The Shape Of Per Diem Payments For Attending Meetings To Be Had
But Wait A Minute. Would Any Successful Private Business Operate This Way?
A Brief Commentary from Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper with excerpts from the Ontario Auditor General’s ‘Special Report’ on the NPCA
Posted September 28th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
These days, there are plenty of talented people out there who are struggling to find a good-paying, full-time employment.
Maybe they ought to consider a career opportunity at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) if and when any career opportunities that open up at this publicly paid for agency is advertised.
According to a “Special Report” that Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk tabled this September 27th on the NPCA’s operations, apparently it is helpful for someone aspiring to an upper management position in this agency to spend some time sitting on its board of directors, although you probably have to be an elected member of the Niagara regional council to qualify for that.
Ten of the 15 individuals now sitting on the NPCA board, including such greats as the board’s chair, Fort Erie regional councillor and former CFL sports celebrity Sandy Annunziata, veteran St. Catharines regional councillor Bruce Timms, Grimsby’s one and only regional councillor Tony Quirk, West Lincoln Mayor Doug Joyner and Pelham regional councillor Brian Baty, just to name a few.
It may also help anyone seeking a job here to have already served or worked in some other capacity with those doing the hiring at the NPCA.
And here is one of the best parts.
In some cases, job opportunities posts at the NPCA, even for the highest positions in the organization, are not widely advertised, so if you are lucky enough to get the nod, there’s a lot less to sweat about because there is no competition.
Those doing the hiring at the NPCA just seem to know who is the best person for the job and it’s always quite the coincidence when the best person just happens to be someone those who do the hiring had a friendly association with before.
Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk outlines a few examples how this has worked at the NPCA in the Special Report on the agency’s operations that she released this September 27th.
The first example, discussed in the section of the report headlined; “Examples of Concerns of Fairness in the Hiring Process,” speaks to the hiring of Carmen D’Angelo, a former NPCA board of director member, to the job of CAO (chief administrative officer) at the Conservation Authority in 2013.
You may know Carmen D’Angelo as the current CAO of Niagara’s regional government, whose hiring to that lofty post two years ago is not the topic of all kinds of discussion and debate over how fair and proper it was.
Carmen D’Angelo’s name is not actually mentioned in Lysyk’s outline of his hiring at the NPCA, but here it is, from page 49 of her lengthy report, under the sub-heading; ‘Board Member Becomes CAO”-
“In October 2013, the NPCA Board agreed to have a Board member (D’Angelo) provide sole sourced consulting services to the NPCA,” states the Auditor General in her report, “and in April 2014 the same Board member was awarded the CAO position.”
“Both appointments could be perceived as a conflict of interest given the individual’s involvement in decision-making processes prior to each hire:
- With regard to the contract position, the Board member was involved in proposing the creation of the consultant position he was later hired to fill. There was no replacement NPCA Board member during this leave. In fact, email communication with the NPCA Board Chair indicated the NPCA Board member would continue to receive Board related communication during his leave.
- During his role as consultant, this individual was involved in staff restructuring decisions related to hirings and terminations, and negotiating the terms and timing of the then CAO’s retirement. Shortly before the CAO vacancy was posted, this individual returned to the Board and submitted his application for CAO. He was on the Board (although not on the hiring committee) when the hiring committee selected which candidates to interview for the CAO position. He took a leave of absence only after being selected for an interview. Following the interviews, he was appointed to the CAO position. As before, there was no replacement NPCA Board member during his second leave of absence.”
The second of what the Auditor General includes in her “examples of concerns of fairness in the hiring process” involves Port Colborne regional councillor David Barrick who was an NPCA board member until 2013 when he landed management position that higher ups in the agency were nice enough to create for a guy just like him.
Lysyk describes this hiring under a sub-heading that reads; “Unposted Position Awarded to Board Member” and it is posted in her report like this –
“ In 2013, the NPCA engaged the Niagara Region to help with the recruitment of a senior manager position. The Region helped conduct interviews with final candidates and reference checks for the selected candidate.”
“A Board member (who was also an elected official) applied for the position and immediately requested a leave of absence from the NPCA Board. Another applicant won the competition, but the Board member was awarded another newly created senior manager position.”
“There was no evidence that this job was posted for competition, even though the Chair of the NPCA Board and NPCA senior management had committed to a recruitment process for this position.”
“Furthermore, the Region was not involved in recruitment efforts for this position, and no reference check was conducted. The position was offered to the NPCA Board Member while the then CAO was on vacation.”
“At the time of this hiring, NPCA policies required “the approval of the CAO or his/her designate” for all positions below Director (Board approval was required for Director positions and above).”
“The decision to hire was made by a selection committee, made up of three NPCA Board members, all fellow elected officials. The job offer was not signed or approved by the CAO.”
“Following the hiring, the former Board member, still currently employed at the NPCA, also continued his position as a sitting elected official. NPCA’s personnel policies are silent regarding employees holding public office.”
“In contrast, we noted that the Grand River Conservation Authority requires employees to take an unpaid leave of absence while campaigning and that employees resign if they are elected as an official within the Grand River watershed. Similarly, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority requires employees to take a leave of absence when they run for office.”
Here is another example the Auditor General includes in her report of hirings at the NPCA that have raised public concern. It is described under a sub-heading that reads; “Successful Candidate Applied Late and Did Not Have All the Required Experience” –
“In the 2015 recruitment for a conservation area position, the successful candidate’s application did not have all of the required education or experience listed in the job posting. The individual also submitted their application nine days after the posting closed and after the HR staff had already screened the applicants who had submitted their application on time. The candidate also had previously worked with and volunteered on the election campaign of one member of the recruitment panel at a different organization.”
Here is yet another example outlined in Lysyk’s report under a sub-heading that read; “CAO Expresses Support to External Candidate Prior to Posting Union Position” –
“In 2017, the NPCA hired two individuals, who had previously done consulting work for the NPCA, to fill a posting for one union position.”
“Almost two months before the job was posted, the CAO told one of the individuals about the job posting coming up and asked the individual if they were interested in the job. The CAO told the individual there was no one he would rather have in that role than the individual.”
“The individual and CAO met off-site to discuss this in more detail. The day after their meeting, the individual emailed the CAO to express their interest in the position, and stating they “would love to accept.” Six days before the posting, the CAO forwarded the individual’s resume to HR.”
“The posting had been for one position, but during the interviews the NPCA decided to expand it to two positions. The NPCA did not conduct any analysis documenting the need for a second position.”
“The individual was one of two hired for the position. The CAO was a member on the recruitment panel. Given his prior interaction with the candidate, his involvement in selecting the candidate may be perceived as a conflict of interest.”
Aren’t those hirings something – all of those and more, along with numerous firings of individuals members of the public felt were dedicated and qualified in the conservation field, happening under the nose of a 15 member board of directors that includes 10 individuals who sit on Niagara’s regional council.
According to the Auditor General’s report, a number of these board members have been receiving an extraordinary number of per diem payments for attending meetings compared to the number of per diem payouts on record at other Conservation Authorities across the province.
A number of other Conservation Authorities, notes the AG’s report, don’t offer their board members per diem payments above the basic stipend they receive for being on the board at all. So how lucky are board members on the NPCA? Nice gig if you can get it, I guess.
Wouldn’t you like to have access to a public trough like that? Snort, snort.
The NPCA’s top brass responded to the concerns the Auditor General raised about the fairness of their hiring practices in a note that read like this in her September 27th report –
“The NPCA is committed to ensuring that the NPCA follows fair and transparent recruitment processes, and that the best-qualified individuals are hired and promoted.”
“The NPCA will build on the improvements that began in 2014, including updating its policies to reflect the actions in this recommendation, and fully implementing its revised performance appraisal process as employees’ hiring anniversaries occur,” continued the agency’s response.
‘In addition, information on staffing changes and overall performance will be included in quarterly HR updates to the Board of Directors beginning in January 2019.”
One can’t help but question how rapidly the “improvements” the NPCA claims to have begun in 2014 are moving given that examples the Auditor General cited of the kind of hiring practices that have raised concerns ran right up to last year.
In an “official statement” Mark Brickell, the NPCA’s current CAO, released this September 27th in response to the Auditor General’s report, he concluded that “now that the Auditor General’s Office has completed its audit, the NPCA is poised for an amazing 2019.”
I am sure I recall Brickell assuring the public at municipal council meetings he attended over the past year or two that 2017 and what has played out of 2018 have been “great” for the NPCA and for those of us it claims to serve.
If the honchoes at NPCA thinks those years were great, I don’t think I want to see their version of amazing.
The only way 2019 is really going to be amazing is if we elected the right people to our regional and local councils in the upcoming October 22nd municipal elections and they move to sweep the NPCA’s current board members and the agency’s senior managers out, and replace them with people dedicated to operating an agency that is truly open and accountable, and dedicated to conserving and protecting Niagara’s watersheds again.
To read the Ontario Auditor General’s complete report on the NPCA, click on –http://www.auditor.on.ca/en/content/specialreports/specialreports/NPCA_en.pdf .
Niagara At Large will be posting more on the findings in this report in the days and weeks ahead. Stay tuned.
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