China Bound – Niagara Region’s Carmen D’Angelo to follow in the steps of Marco Polo

Wouldn’t you know the CAO would get enough votes from this outgoing Caslin-led regional council to go

A News Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted November 2nd, 2018 on Niagara At Large

Niagara Region’s CAO Carmen d’Angelo is heading off to China on a trade mission for the region, even while his hiring to the CAO’s job two years ago is being investigated by the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office.

Poor Carmen D’Angelo. Should the beleaguered Niagara regional CAO keep his travel bags packed and ready to go, or not?

First we learned, through information leaked to the news media, that D’Angelo would be leading a trade mission to China this month – even while the very legitimacy of the process that got him hired to the Region’s chief administrative job in the first place is now the subject of an ongoing Ontario Ombudsman’s Office probe.

Then, this November 1st – at what was the last meeting of a regional council under the occupation of Al Caslin and his cabal before a new council of what we hope will be liberators rides in – D’Angelo announced that he has decided not go to what has been described as an “International Import Expo” in Shanghai from this November 6th through 10th because of what he called “the distraction that occurred” around news that he was going.

The last meeting of the Al Caslin-led Niagara regional council – Thursday, November 1st, 2018. Photo by Doug Draper

D’Angelo did not make clear the source of “the distraction.”

Was it the news that he – a controversial figure going back to his days as CAO at the problem-plagued Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority – was going? Or was it the tsunami of public protest that followed?

Could it have been a recent letter, signed by four of Niagara’s mayors – Walter Sendzik from St. Catharines, Wayne Redekop from Fort Erie, Sandra Easton from Lincoln and Frank Campion from Welland – urging him to step aside and let other senior staff from the Region go in his place?

One of many signs held by protests last month as questions mounted about the legitimacy of
the process used to hire Carmen D’Angelo to the CAO’s job in 2016. File photo by Doug Draper

Whatever the distraction, D’Angelo was on the record, for a few brief moments at the November 1st meeting of the Region’s council, with an offer to step aside. How decent and respectful of the taxpayers of him.

Yet leave it to members of the cabal to circle the wagons around him one last time – even on their way out the door, and in the wake of municipal elections this October that could not have delivered a clearer message that people have had more than enough of the stuff they have shoveled out over the past four years.

The ‘let’s get-Carmen-back-on-the-plane-to-Shanghai’ circus got started with some introductory words from one of the more skillful ringmasters on this outgoing council, former Mike Harris MPP for Niagara Falls, Bart Maves, who decided not to run for another term on regional council, but who may not be out of work long with a months-old Ford government in Toronto, moving rapidly to employ friends and loyalists, one way or another.

“This is disappointing,” said Maves.”I think the appropriate person to go is Mr. D’Angelo. …. I am very disappointed that people have jumped on this as a political football.”

Maves words were followed with expressions of support from Tony Quirk, who lost his bid in Grimsby to serve another term of the regional council, and from others belonging to the same old gang.

At one point during all of this, a member of the public sitting in the council chambers’ gallery, shouted out that D’Angelo’s status as a CAO is not legitimate – an episode that for some reason  caused St. Catharines Mayor and regional councillor Walter Sendzik to take personally and apologize for. 

Sendzik concluded this ingratiating gesture with a comment that the citizen’s words around  D’Angelo’s illegitimacy as a CAO were “not justified.”

Perhaps Sendzik should wait to see what the Ontario Ombudsman finds out about the legitimacy of the process used to hire D’Angelo, along the legitimacy of the contract Caslin unilaterally sweetened up with an extension and million-dollar buyout for D’Angelo before he draws any further conclusions about who is justified to say what. 

And when it came to vote on whether D’Angelo should still be the one to lead a trade mission that includes more than a dozen Niagara area businesses, to China, the council was split 12 to 12, leaving the chair to cast the tie breaking vote in favour of letting the CAO go after a brief whisper fest with the man, himself.

And after all, why wouldn’t Caslin vote in favour of D’Angelo doing the trip?

“He works for me,” Caslin was once quoted saying of the CAO whose three-year contract Caslin unilaterally extended for another two years, we later learned, reportedly with a guarantee that D’Angelo would receive a $1 million buyout even if he were to be fired with cause.

Niagara regional chair Al Caslin at left, CAO Carmen D’Angelo at right. “He works for me,” Caslin once said of D’Angelo. File photo by Doug Draper

Besides, what does Caslin have to lose by voting in favour of letting D’Angelo go on this China Trip. It is hard to imagine people getting any more angry at him than they were in his home-municipality of St. Catharines this October, where in a field of 23 candidates vying for six council seats, he finished 20th in the pack.

For the record, those regional councillors who voted in favour of D’Angelo going on this trade mission include; Sandy Annunziata from Fort Erie, David Barrick from Port Colborne, Brian Baty from Pelham, Patrick Darte from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Bob Gale from Niagara Falls, April Jeffs from Wainfleet, Doug Joyner from West Lincoln, Bart Maves from Niagara Falls, Tony Quirk from Grimsby, Bruce Timms from St. Catharines and Selina Volpatti from Niagara Falls (all of who would surprise few Region watchers for being on a list supporting this motion.) The odd person out on the “yes” side was Gary Burroughs from Niagara-on-the-Lake who has rarely ever voted the same way as this group.

Niagara Region’s Chair Al Caslin tie-breakingvote passed a motion, saying “yes” to CAO Carmen D’Angelo going on the China trade mission.

Those who voted “no” to D’Angelo going on the trip were; Brian Bentley from Grimsby, Henry D’Angela from Thorold, Sandra Easton of Lincoln, Kelly Edgar and Brian Heit from St. Catharines, Bill Hodgson from Lincoln, Debbie MacGregor from St. Catharines, George Marshall from Welland, Wayne Redekop from Fort Erie, and Tim Rigby and Walter Sendzik from St. Ctharines.

Dave Augustyn from Pelham, Frank Campion and Paul Grenier from Welland, John Maloney from Port Colborne and Jim Diodati from Niagara Falls were absent for the vote.

A week ago, Niagara At Large email some questions to Niagara Region representatives about this China Trip. My questions read as follows –

Can you please email Niagara At Large an itinerary for this trade mission and a list of those from Niagara who are going on the China trade mission with Mr. Carmen D’Angelo?

What is the budgeted cost for this trip?

Were all members of regional council informed of this trip and given an opportunity to offer input or make suggestions as to what members of the mission delegation might share or seek in the way of information during the China trip?

Why is other regional staff not going in place of Mr. D’Angelo given the outstanding questions and Ontario Ombudsman investigation underway into his hiring?

Here are the responses I received from one of the Region’s communications officers who typically prepare their answers with those who are the subject of the inquiry (i.e.; Carmen D’Angelo).

Mr. Draper,

Niagara Region looks forward to participating in the China International Import Expo in partnership with numerous private sector partners from across Niagara.

Representatives from more than a dozen Niagara companies will be travelling to Shanghai next month in addition to Niagara Region’s CAO and the Niagara Region Foreign Trade Zone coordinator.

The main function of the two Niagara Region representatives will be to promote incentives available through Niagara’s Foreign Trade Zone Point. The CAO and the coordinator are the two most appropriate officials to represent the Region at the event.

The Region is covering the costs for two Niagara Region representatives. The cost per person is $4,238 CDN plus HST.

The Region is also contributing up to $15,000 toward other expenditures that include the cost to occupy 5 booth spaces at the expo, which is covered through the council-approved Economic Development Budget. 

With over 150,000 visitors expected to attend the expo, this is a great opportunity for the regional government to support local businesses and promote Niagara Region as a competitive and attractive investment destination within North America.

Niagara is the only Regional Municipality in Canada with a pavilion at this event, which uniquely situates Niagara and Ontario for investment success.

Thank you, Peter Criscione. Niagara Region

There are a number of things that bother this journalist about this whole episode, along with the feeling I have that this was just one more affront or slap in the face for Niagara residents before this Caslin bunch walked out the door.

One of the things that bothers  me the most and that makes all the rhetoric from Maves and others about how “important an opportunity” this China trip is to Niagara seem so disingenuous is the apparent lack of communication with other member of the Region’s council, including all 12 Niagara mayors, about the trip.

According to what was said by D’Angelo and others  at the November 1st regional council meeting, D’Angelo and possibly others higher up, including Caslin, knew about this “important opportunity” four or five weeks ago.

So if it was so potentially important for Niagara in terms of jobs, business opportunities and the region’s overall economy, who would D’Angelo and company not contact all members of the council, including the mayor, immediately for input about any business in their municipalities that already have interests or might want to have interests with counterparts in China?

This seems to me like a no brainer and the fact that I heard from some regional councillors that new nothing about this trade mission to China until they read about it in the local media a week or so ago, adds to an overall concern I share with others that something is wrong with the way the current top brass at the region do business.

Niagara At Large will have more on this and related matters later. Please continue to check in.

To watch the video of the November 1st meeting of Niagara regional council, click on – https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hm8kouHRi6E?rel=0&autoplay=1 .

.To read a recent story in The St. Catharines Standard on this issue, click on – https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news-story/8999682-updated-mayors-object-to-d-angelo-china-trip/?fbclid=iwar2cpyc6ibsjd3nf73z_w9z9lxo1nwuplbwgnuzkhy3tvt8r1poavxbtttq#.W9opZb4mtbl.facebook

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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2 responses to “China Bound – Niagara Region’s Carmen D’Angelo to follow in the steps of Marco Polo

  1. It seems that the Councillors who voted yes and d’angelo who decided not to go have ever heard the phrase, “the appearance of impropriety.” Or “the appearance of impropriety is as bad as the impropriety itself.” I read the council can vote not to extend contract this month which can’t be. Can they do it in December.? While I believe courts and the AG would nullify any golden parachutes, It is still worth it to get rid of a corrupt CAO and find one through honest means. THank you

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  2. Infuriating that they have an opportunity to vote on business after being voted out or defeated by a now elected opponent. I believe this is what the protester meant by “not legitimate”. I am happy with the way my Mayor (Redekop) voted. I would love a follow up on this story if you can get an interview with Gary Burroughs from NOTL on why he decided to vote yes.

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