There Were Some Good People Serving Over the Past Four Years Too. In These All-Too Angry & Cynical Times, It Is Important To Remember That
A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted November 19th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
More than a month has passed since October’s municipal elections, and some may be wondering why on earth I would be bringing them up again.
I can hardly blame anyone for wondering after all of the controversy we suffered through during the last four years of municipal governance in Niagara.
When it comes to the Region’s council, I’ve heard more than a few people say, in so many words; ’We (at least those of us who bothered to vote) kicked most of the bums out, and let’s just leave it like that. Time to move on.”
This chronicler of what was too often bad and ugly during the last term of regional council is all for moving on, but not until I pay tribute to some of the good people on the Region’s council who either ran for another term and lost or decided not to run again.
Here is my list of outgoing councillors that I believe tried to stand up to what I saw as the darker forces at work at the regional council level, and on certain bodies like the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) and Niagara Regional Police Services Board.
They are councillors who showed the courage two years ago to vote against hiring former Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) CAO Carmen D’Angelo to serve, as he now does no thanks to a majority others on the council, as the Region’s CAO – a hiring that is now the subject of an ongoing Ontario Ombudsman’s Office investigation.
And they are councillors who repeatedly pressed for an audit that was finally done by Ontario’s Auditor General on the operations of an NPCA with a board of directors made up predominately of local mayors and regional councillors who were part of what came to be known as the Region chair Al Caslin’s cabal.
In more or less alphabetical order, they include Dave Augustyn who sat on the Region’s council as a three- term Mayor of Pelham.
Dave Augustyn was one of a handful on the Region’s council who opposed D’Angelo’s hiring and more recently and his opposition to the hiring of D’Angelo, relentless lobbying for pressed for public disclosure of details involving the process that led to his hiring and Caslin’s decision to extend his contract without the council’s involvement.
This past July, in the wake of calls from a number of residents across the Region for him to run for Regional Chair in the October elections, he announced his decision to do so just days before Ontario Premier Doug Ford suddenly pulled the plug on region-wide elections for the chair’s position. Augustyn quickly registered to run for a regional council seat but lost in a three-way race in Pelham.
Second, there is Henry D’Angela (with an ‘a’ at the end of his last name, he was sometimes quick to remind you) who began his years in municipal politics couple of decades ago as a Thorold city councillor, then of the city before serving a couple of terms as a regional councillor.
In October of 2016Henry D’Angela was among the handful of regional councillors who braved any consequences members of the cabal might dish out to vote against D’Angelo’s hiring. He was also one of the stronger voices calling for a full and independent audit of the NPCA.
D’Angela was a strong advocate for more affordable housing in Niagara, serving this past term as chair of Niagara Regional Housing’s board. He spent the final weeks of this past term at the Region trying to get a motion approved to make public that controversial Caslin signed with D’Angelo – a motion one hopes will finally receive the attention it deserves from the Region’s incoming council.
Then there is Kelly Edgar, a one term St. Catharines regional councillor, who barely lost his bid this October to win one of the city’s six seats on the Region’s council for reasons that do not make any sense from where I sit – especially when you look at one or two of the candidates who polled ahead of him (and I am not talking about re-elected St. Catharines regional councillor Brian Heit and newly-elected St. Catharines regional councillor and former MPP for the city, Jim Bradley).
In fact, it was Brian Heit, along with Kelly Edgar, who two years ago found themselves being slapped with a lawsuit by a private contract that had done some work with the NPCA.
Because they had the audacity to circulate a list of questions and concerns to their fellow regional councillors about D’Angelo and his time as CAO at the NPCA so they’d have more information before it came time to cast a vote on his hiring at the Region.
The lawsuit was ridiculous and was eventually dropped after u causing both councillors and considerable amount of stress. But it did not stop either one of them from continuing to speak out about D’Angelo’s hiring, the mess at the NPCA and a host of related matters.
Should the new regional council choose one of the six elected councillors from St. Catharines to serve as the Region’s new chair, Edgar is next in line for a seat on the council, which would be a good thing for all of us because it would mean one more solid, principled voice in the arena.
Another departing member of the Region’s council is Bill Hodgson, who served in decades gone by as a public school board trustee, then as the Town of Lincoln’s mayor, before winning a seat on regional council.
Bill Hodgson decided not to run for another term on the Region’s council after being dragged through hell while sitting on the NPCA’s board of directors, and even after he resigned from it a year ago this past spring.
Others on the NPCA board censured him and made suggestions he had done something that were unethical or possibly even illegal after he took up the fight many citizens in the region had already mounted for having a thorough and independent audit done on the NPCA’s operations.
Such a prove of the Conservation Authority’s affairs was eventually done by Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk who found nothing wrong with Hodgson’s conduct on the NPCA’s board. But by the time her report was released last September, Hodgson had already decided that he and his family had enough of the attacks and insults the board directed at him.
It was the end of the line in municipal politics for a decent an principled person who is too nice to do what many out here believe he had every right to do – sue the parties that smeared him.
Three others good, decent people who lost their seats in this October’s elections are St. Catharines regional councillor Debbie MacGregor, Welland regional councillor George Marshall and Thorold Mayor Ted Luciani.
All three of these people were among the only eight on the Region’s council who voted against hiring D’Angelo to the CAO’s job and, as recently as this November 1st, voted against D’Angelo leading a trade mission to for the Region while the legitimacy of the process used to hire him remains a focus of an Ontario Ombudsman’s Office investigation.
Debbie McGregor, George Marshall and Ted Luciani were also among a minority that cast votes for more transparency and accountability at the NPCA.
I also want to mention at least one other good person who won’t be returning to the Region’s council, and that is Gary Burroughs who served as a regional councillor for the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake over the past four years and served as regional chair from 2010 to 2014,
In Gary Burroughs case, he decided to run for a seat on Niagara-on-the-Lake’s town council this past October, and he won. It is familiar territory for him. Before serving at the regional level, he served for a time as the town’s Lord Mayor.
Obviously, now everyone out there will agree with those I named to pay a little tribute to as – at least for now – they leave regional politics.
For those who object to my list or feel I left one or more key people out, I urge you to share your views below as long as you do your part to keep the conversation civil.
We could use a little more civility after the four years we’ve been through at the regional council level.
And as for those who contributed to making things so uncivil, and were thankfully defeated in this October’s municipal elections, I’d rather not identify any of them by name here.
When it comes to them, I agree with those who say it is time to move on.
It would be good if each and every one of them agreed to move on too. The voters of Niagara sent them a very clear message on October 22nd.
The jig is up!
(A Footnote from Niagara At Large – The Region’s new council will be sworn in this coming Thursday, December 6th and a new Chair for the council will be chosen by the newly sworn-in members. Niagara At Large will be there to report on this and more. Stay tuned.)
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