Public Trust in Niagara’s Conservation Authority Can’t Be Restored While Same Old Administrators Are In Place

NPCA’s “acting CAO” David Barrick has been a “centre of controversy,” Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch

“David Barrick, the interim CAO (for  the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority) has been at the centre of controversy since assuming the position. He was fired by the NPCA, then rehired by the new acting CAO, and then appointed as the replacement CAO. To this day it remains unclear who signed off on the hiring of Mr. Barrick. … This organization cannot be successful if it is still haunted by the actions of the previous administration.” – Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch, from an Open Letter to Dave Bylsma, chair of the NPCA board

A Brief Foreword by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher        Doug Draper

Posted February 11th, 2019 on Niagara At Large

Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch

The following Open Letter from Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch to Dave Bylsma, Mayor West Lincoln and a Niagara Regional Councillor who now serves as Chair of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s recently appointed interim board, was circulated by the MPP this February 11th, in the wake of growing public concern that the new board is not working effectively to address the serious problems plaguing the NPCA.

Over the past few weeks alone, David Barrick, a former Niagara Regional Councillor for Port Colborne and full-time NPCA administrator who now puts himself out there as the Conservation  Authority’s “acting” or “interim” CAO, raised the ire of councillors for the City of Hamilton and Niagara Region by, in the case of Hamilton, failing to show up for a presentation of the NPCA’s latest budget and, in the case of Niagara Region, showing up but falling significantly short of answering key questions councillors had about the budget.

Over that same period of time, Niagara Regional Police confirmed that someone at the NPCA actually filed a complaint with the police over criticism an area citizen’s group called A Better Niagara posted on social media about Barrick and his performance at the budget meeting.

In his Open Letter to Bylsma and the NPCA, Burch also writes“Last week, senior members of the NPCA staff called the police over a Facebook post. The post did not contain any threats towards any members of the NPCA or its staff. Police cannot be used to intimidate critics, and I am disappointed that once again the NPCA has used extreme measures in an attempt to silence dissent.”

So far, no one at the NPCA has taken responsibility for the phone call to the Niagara Regional Police and there is no demonstrable evidence that anyone at the Conservation Authority is working to get to the bottom of who made that phone call and why.

Now here is the full text of the Open Letter from Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch –

Mr. Dave Bylsma, Chair:

I’m writing firstly to congratulate you on your new position as Chair of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) and secondly to raise some concerns I have regarding the governance and sustainability of the NPCA.

The N,PCA’s new chair, recently elected West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma, seeks some direction from “acting NPCA CAO” David Barrick to his left, while the NPCA’s recently promoted “communications and administration director” Krystle Caputo flanks him on the right at a recent NPCA board meeting.

I appreciate the work being done to reform an organization that has been scrutinized by citizens and embroiled in controversy. My responsibility as an elected Member of Provincial Parliament is to ensure the voices in my community are heard and to work across partisan lines to ensure that advocacy becomes action.

As chair, your new role provides you an opportunity to restore faith in the NPCA. I imagine it is difficult to move forward when the board is interim. Throughout the tenure of this new board I have remained concerned as we have seen very little improvement in the governance of the NPCA.

Earlier this week it was revealed that the NPCA’s 2018 operating budget was $8.87 million, with $6.53 million in spending and no accounting of the remaining $2.52 million. I understand there is an upcoming budget presentation that seeks to account for this hole. However, it does lead me to question why the figures for 2019 do not include a full account of budgeted spending.

Last week, senior members of the NPCA staff called the police over a Facebook post. The post did not contain any threats towards any members of the NPCA or its staff. Police cannot be used to intimidate critics, and I am disappointed that once again the NPCA has used extreme measures in an attempt to silence dissent.

It is clear the NPCA is having difficulty moving forward, and it needs a fresh start. David Barrick, the interim CAO has been at the centre of controversy since assuming the position. He was fired by the NPCA, then rehired by the new acting CAO, and then appointed as the replacement CAO. To this day it remains unclear who signed off on the hiring of Mr. Barrick.

The successful implementation of the Auditor General’s recommendations requires that the permanent CAO undergo the proper hiring process. This organization cannot be successful if it is still haunted by the actions of the previous administration.

New board members are faced with the daunting task of repairing ongoing issues of governance, accountability and severely damaged public trust. The new board must also implement the multitude of Auditor General Recommendations handed down last September. The resolution to these issues requires dedication, time and a stable environment.

I will work with the office of the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to ensure recommendations aimed at the Provincial level to improve operations at the NPCA including financial accountability are implemented.

To echo the words of Justice James Ramsay “the governance of the conservation authority cannot remain in chaos.”

Sincerely, Jeff Burch, MPP

Copy: Board Members of NPCA

        Jim Bradley, Niagara Regional Chair

        Interim CAO David Barrick

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

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