Sacking of Employee Proceeds Even as New NPCA Board Passed A Freeze on Staff Hirings and Firings
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted February 12th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
Meet the new NPCA board, same as the old NPCA board.
That’s the way it seems to be going, unfortunately. Nothing much has changed since the old Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) finally took a hike and since last December 6th, when Niagara’s Regional Council appointed 12 members of the council last December 6th to sit on the Conservation Authority’s board for an interim period of three months.
In fact, things seem to have been getting worse over the past couple of months at a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) that – to borrow a word Ontario Superior Court Justice James Ramsey used this past December on this problem-plagued agency – has been a textbook study in “chaos” for some time now.
Within the past couple of weeks alone, there was an appearance of David Barrick, a former Port Colborne regional councillor and currently the NPCA’s controversial “acting” or “interim” CAO, before Niagara Region’s budget review committee that raised the ire of a number of councillors for failing to answer key questions about the NPCA’s finances.
Barrick stood before the regional councillors with a budget demanding more than eight million tax dollars from the region, and said: “This is not a request for approval (of the money). The Region’s council, he continued, has little or no choice but to give the NPCA the money without the Conservation Authority having to provide the council with the level of financial detail that other agencies, like the police, do.
Then there were reports of a complaint phoned in to Niagara Regional Police from, according to a police spokesperson, someone at the NPCA alleging that a citizens group called A Better Niagara had posted on social media some threatening words about Barrick following his performance at the Region’s budget meeting.
The NRP rapidly concluded that there was nothing about the criticism the citizens group posted that warranted the laying of charges or any further action by police.
Indeed, in an Open Letter that Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch sent to members of the NPCA board this February 11th, he had this to say about that phone call –
“Last week,” wrote Burch, “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.”
A now we have learned this.
Sometime in the past number of days, even after the NPCA’s board approved a motion this past January 7th putting at least a temporary freeze on hirings and firings at the agency, an NPCA employee named Stuart McPherson, who is highly respected among his colleagues in the conservation field and who had been doing some key work in the watershed restoration area for the Conservation Authority, has been fired.
Even after all of the reports about questionable firings of several other NPCA employees in the past (discussed in a scorching report Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released on the Conservation Authority last September) and even after that hiring freeze motion the new board past this January, McPherson was fired for reasons we have yet to get to the bottom of.
Niagara At Large reached out to a few NPCA board members earlier this February 12 for information on McPherson’s sacking, but to little or no avail.
I am unable to comment on personnel matters,” responded Pelham Regional Councillor and the NPCA board’s co-chair Diana Huson in an email. “I can tell you a special meeting will occur on Friday.”
Tim Whelan, a Thorold Regional Councillor who also sits on the board, also declined to offer any details about McPherson’s departure from the agency. He would only add that the matter will be discussed by board members at the special meeting called for this February 15th.
Stuart McPherson was a restoration technician at the NPCA, working in partnership with community groups in Niagara to improve the health of One Mile Creek in Niagara-on-the-Lake with a “Friends of” the creek there, and on similar projects across the region.
Word of McPherson’s demise at the NPCA has already triggered concern and anger from individual citizens and groups across Niagara.
Ed Smith, a St. Catharines community activist and a director of A Better Niagara who has been watchdogging operations at the NPCA for more than three years now, shared the following response with Niagara At Large –
“On January 7th, the NPCA board passed a motion that directed in part, ‘the interim CAO to freeze all hiring, firing, and changes to organizational structure unless approved by the Board until a permanent CAO is appointed,’ responded Smith in an email. “Now we find out that not only are they recruiting new people, but they have fired yet another employee.”
“This is shocking,” added Smith. “This was a public motion passed by the Board and there has been no public motion passed to remove the freeze on hiring and firing, so how is this happening?”
“There are only two options that I can surmise,” said Smith. “Either the interim CAO (David Barrick) is working on his own in contravention of the Board, or the Board approved such actions behind the scenes, in-camera.”
“Both of these options are unacceptable. These types of actions should not be discussed in-camera. The motion to freeze firings was a public motion because it is the public’s business. If the board is removing that restriction that also should be discussed in public, and under no circumstances should the CAO be allowed to take unilateral actions within the NPCA.
“The public cannot stand by and watch this happen,” concluded Smith “We hoped that (last October’s municipal) election and appointment of a new Board would end the tyranny of the old regime.”
“Instead we see it perpetuating itself in a Board that is adrift with no leadership coming from the Chair. It’s time for citizens to get re-engaged in the issues of the NPCA. It’s also time for this Board to start questioning its leadership.”
Niagara At Large will be posting more on this and related matters involving the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and what our Niagara Regional Council and other parties are or are not doing to address the ongoing chaos here in the days ahead.
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