New NPCA Board Could Begin to Build a Bit of Public Trust by Rehiring Fired Employee

Time  Rapidly Running Out For This Board to Take Real Action to Clean e Mess at  Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority Up

A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper

Posted February 19th, 2019 on Niagara At Large

I don’t believe I’d be too far off the mark to say that if the current board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) was a song, it would be lucky to ever make it on to the Hot 100 Billboard charts – not the way things on this board are going.

One of many demonstrations of citizens in front of the NPCA’s headquarters in Welland over the past four years. File photo by Doug Draper

Now more than two thirds of the way through a three-month interim mandate, the 12 area mayors and councillors Niagara’s Regional Council appointed to the board of this highly dysfunctional public agency, along with members from Hamilton and Haldimand County, have overseen a continuation of what an Ontario Superior Court Judge described this past December as the kind of chaos that cannot be tolerated any more.

Among other things, board members who residents across the region hoped would rapidly get to work cleaning up the mess at the NPCA, have overseen some of the same old guard in administration, including key players who were there when a team from Ontario’s Auditor General Office went in and discovered boat loads of operational problems, still around, doing God knows what in the agency’s headquarters.

Some of these characters got promoted to positions higher up the administrative ladder for reason that, to many a concerned citizen forced to contribute some of their tax dollars to this agency, still aren’t clear.

And at least a few of them, according to copies of ‘employment agreements’ obtained by the citizens group A Better Niagara, are now eligible for monthly vehicle allowances totalling $1,000 for each of them – an amount that is just about the same amount of money a single mom working 36 hours a week at the current minimum wage of $14.00 per hour would have to work two weeks to make.

Ed Smith, a St. Catharines  community activist and director of the region-wide citizens watchdog group, A Better Niagara.

“These vehicle allowances demonstrate clearly how deep is the  unrestrained abuse of the public trust within the NPCA and is indicative of the old board that many times demonstrated its total disregard for responsible good governance practices,” said Ed Smith, a St. Catharines resident and director of A Better Niagara in a brief statement to Niagara At Large. “If the new board does not end this type of abuse immediately then they now own it. They have been made aware and they must take swift and transparent action.”

Putting an end to this type of abuse might be one good way the new NPCA board could begin building some public trust – especially at a time when many home and business owners across Niagara face a February 28th deadline to pay the first instalment of this year’s property taxes, and don’t much care for the idea of any of our money being spent like this.

And there is another thing that the new board to do to help build some public trust in an organization that has lost so much of that over the past four or more years, and it could do it when it meets against this coming Wednesday (February 20th) morning by tabling a motion to rehire Stuart McPherson, one of the last, if not the last of the NPCA’s bona fide, on-the-ground watershed restoration staff members who, much to the anger of many area citizens, was recently fired by who knows who for God knows what reason.

I already knew from my coverage of environmental issues that McPherson was held in high regard by individual citizens and conservation and nature clubs across Niagara, but I had no idea how much until news spread of his firing last week, and all of the phone calls and comments on email and social media sites began flooding in.

A respected watershed restoration projects worker at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority is the latest rank-and-file employee to get axed at the controversial agency.

“Words cannot express the sadness/anger I feel right now as we lose yet another protector of our watersheds of Niagara,” wrote Della Trojan, a resident in the area and a member of The Friends of Walker’s Creek, in one comment to Niagara At Large. “I have had the privilege of working alongside Stuart, not only on projects along Walker’s Creek Trail, but throughout Niagara as well. His willingness to share his expertise and his passion for the environment is the ‘cement’ in the foundation for many volunteer groups across Niagara!”

Similar messages came in from other Niagara groups, including from representatives of the Niagara Restoration Council and Trout Unlimited Canada that have worked on conservation projects with NPCA staffers like Stuart McPherson over the years.

But those days are virtually gone because NPCA administrators and old board oversaw the axing of quite a few of the agency’s professional field workers have let go for reasons that make about as much sense as the administrators at a hospital getting rid of most or all of their doctors and nurses.

As Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomson, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union whose 180,000 members include two or three dozen at the NPCA, put it more than a year ago when about eight more fieldworkers at the Conservation Authority were let go; “This organization is putting itself out of existence.”

OPSEU union president Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas (right) has a few brief words with then NPCA corporate services director, now allegedly the agency’s acting CAO, before one of the agency’s board meetings in 2017, after a number of conservation staff members were axed. File photo by Doug Draper

It certainly is and it is one of the reasons it is becoming easier and easier to make a case now that if the NPCA is no longer going to have more than a token number of staff members doing real conservation work on the ground, we would lose nothing by shutting it down and starting a new conservation agency, possibly with the regional and local municipal governments working in concert with Niagara College, Brock University and nature clubs across Niagara.

The new NPCA board would do well to keep that in mind while it is considering whether or not to rehire Stuart McPherson, and possibly to rehire and hire more like him while it sheds the agency of a good deal of the high-cost characters with their vehicle allowances in administration.

There is a great deal more the board should be doing as soon as tomorrow, starting with hiring a brand new acting or interim CAO or supervisor with experience turning troubled organizations like this Conservation Authority around.

This February 20th meeting may be the last chance this group of board members has to show an already discouraged public that it has the will and the courage to really do something.

If it doesn’t then it is truly time to move out of the way and let a board of qualified citizens from across Niagara, rather than politicians, to have one last shot at cleaning the NPCA mess up.

We at Niagara At Large will be watching, and we will be reporting.

Stay Tuned.

For related posts, visit the following links

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To read an earlier story in Niagara At Large about the firings of NPCA watershed employees, click on .

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