“Effective immediately Chris Carter, General Manager; Peter Wadsworth, Director of Human Resources; Jason Tamming Director of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs and Domenic Ursini, Director of Economic Development, are no longer with Niagara Region.” – a statement released late this December 17th by Niagara Region
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted December 17th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
If it was change Niagara voters went to the polls for in this past October’s municipal elections, they are getting it – fast.
In a statement Niagara At Large received form the Region shortly before 5 p.m. this December 7th, it was confirmed that earlier in the day five key staff members at Niagara’s regional headquarters saw their jobs disappear, “effective immediately,” while others have been appointed, in the interim, to serve in their place.
All five of the individuals let go were hired over the past four years and during a term of Niagara Regional Council, led by then chair Al Caslin, that became increasing controversial.
Before we say more about the turmoil that ended with Caslin and a majority of others on the Region’s council getting defeated at the polls on October 22nd or deciding not to run for re-election at all, here is the statement Niagara At Large received this December 17 from the Region –
Today Niagara Region has made a series of staff changes within our organization. These changes point our organization in the right direction and position us for success in 2019.
Effective immediately Chris Carter, General Manager; Peter Wadsworth, Director of Human Resources; Jason Tamming Director of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs and Domenic Ursini, Director of Economic Development, are no longer with Niagara Region. We thank them for their service and wish them well in their future careers.
In the interim, the following staff have been appointed to acting positions: Franco Meffe, Acting Director of Human Resources; Sean O’Brady, Acting Director Strategic Communications and Public Affairs and Valerie Kuhns, Acting Director Economic Development.
The acting team that has been put in place will provide strong and stable leadership during this time of transition. (End of Statement).
At least one other key staff member – the Region’s current chief administrative officer (CAO) Carmen D’Angelo – has been off for more than two weeks now on medical leave.
D’Angelo and remains a focus of an Ontario Ombudsman’s Office probe over the circumstances around his 2016 hiring by the Caslin administration, and the extension of his three-year contract which expired this October and was unilaterally extended by Caslin without the knowledge or approval of the full council.
Of those who were let go this December 17th, Chris Carter, the Region’s now former general manager, played a prominent role a year ago this month in the seizure of St. Catharines Standard reporter Bill Sawchuk’s computer and notebook and his expulsion from the regional headquarters during a closed meeting of the council. The province’s Ombudsman’s Office investigated the matter and released a scathing report, calling the seizure of the reporter’s equipment and his expulsion from the property unconstitutional.
That incident earned Niagara’s regional government of the day a good deal of negative publicity across the province and country.
D’Angelo reportedly hired Domenic Ursini, a former Ontario Tory candidate who ran unsuccessfully in Niagara Centre (the former riding of Welland) in 2011, to the important position of economic development director at the Region this past summer. When a news release about the hiring was circulated last July, Niagara At Large called a number of regional councillors to find out if they had any advance knowledge or say in the hiring, and they said they did not.
Peter Wadsworth, the now former human resources director, reportedly played a role in the extension of D’Angelo’s contract which is one of the matters that triggered the latest, yet-to-be-completed Ombudsman’s Office investigation. And Jason Tamming is alleged to have played a role in activities that may have compromised or corrupted the process used to hire D’Angelo two years ago.
Jason Lupish, also let go from the Region’s communications group, is alleged to have assisted in producing materials for Caslin’s recent campaign – a campaign that ultimately failed to get Caslin re-elected to a regional council seat in St. Catharines. In a field of more than 20 candidates, Caslin came in close to last in the polls.
During his inaugural address to Regional Council and the people of Niagara this past December 6th, the Region’s new Chair, Jim Bradley promised to work with members of Regional Council, staff and the public to chart a new course.
“During the recent election campaign, all of us received a clear message from the voters,”Bradley said. “A justified demand that council conduct its business with honesty, integrity, civility, fairness, openness and accountability. Without a doubt there is an expectation that elected officials must embraces these attributes at all times and in all circumstances is a profound message that all of us will heed I’m sure in the term ahead.”
“As your chair,” Bradley continued, “I am committed to working in a collaborative consensus of a reaching manner to ensure all the views of councillors receive a fair hearing and that accurate information is provided on a timely basis to each elected representative”.
“Each decision should be an interest of the people we represent and not in the personal interests of anyone or any group of councillors. I am confident this sentiment is shared by all members of this council – those re-elected and those newly elected.
“It will be our goal,” Bradley added, “to attract and retain top-notch staff who were hired and promoted on merit and in fair, open and transparent fashion we’ll be able to carry out the responsibilities in a professional manner without political interference or intimidation providing independent expert advice to our elected representatives.”
The Region’s new chair and council appear to be wasting little time moving in that direction.
Niagara At Large will have more on this major staff shake-up at the Region as events develop.
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