We’ve Had More Than Enough Secrecy at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority
A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted February 27th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
“What I can tell you is that the community will be well served by the settlement,” one interim member of the NPCA’s board, Welland Regional Councillor Pat Chiocchio was quoted telling a local newspaper recently about a “mutual separation agreement” the Conservation Authority negotiated with alleged “interim CAO” David Barrick on his way out the door.
What Chiochio and other members of the board have not told us since news of this so-called mutual separation agreement was made public this February 21st is how much it is costing the public with respect to any buyout package Barrick received.
West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma, who serves as the board’s interim chair, was quoted telling a media outlet, The Hamilton News, that the agreement was approved by the entire board, made up of hime and eleven other Niagara mayors and regional councillors, along with representatives from neighbouring Hamilton and Haldimand County.
And, added Bylsma, it “is not tainted. It’s responsible (and) it’s poetic.”
An agreement that is poetic? An agreement that serves the community well”
Leaving whatever poetry Bylsma may imagine out of it, it is hard to imagine how he or anyone else on the current board knows if they approved an agreement that serves the community well, or not.
In the first place, how do they even know what David Barrick’s real status was (if he still had one) at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (if he still had any at all) when that mutual separation agreement – whatever that term means – was signed?
After all, Barrick, a former Port Colborne regional councillor who was the NPCA’s director of corporate services for a few years after obtaining that job without any open advertising for it, was reportedly fired .this past November 23th – almost two weeks before Bylsma and the 11 other current board members were appointed on December 6th by Niagara Region’s newly sworn in Regional Council.
Barrick was fired by then NPCA CAO Mark Brickell, who had served in that position for about two years after Carmen D’Angelo left it for a job as CAO at the Region.
And as far as most, if not all members of the public in Niagara know, Brickell was the last individual to hold the CAO job at the Conservation Authority with any real legitimacy – that is up to this March 1st, when Gayle Wood, a veteran conservationist appointed by the current board to serve for five months as interim CAO, begins that role at the agency.
So if Barrick was fired out of the NPCA last November, how is it that he was “interim CAO” at the same agency until this past February 21st when he received this “mutual separation agreement” Bylsma says is so “responsible” and “poetic”?
It is a question that takes us back to a couple of weeks in late November and early December when whatever semblance of public accountability and transparency around the operations of this agency over the past four or more years sunk to a new low.
Last December 3rd, less than two weeks after Barrick was fired by Brickell, members of the NPCA’s old board, made up of a number of Niagara mayors regional councillors who either lost their seats or did not run for another term in last October 22nd’s municipal elections, and whose terms of elected office expired at the end of November, met without any pre-notification to the public met in a room they rented at a hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake to discuss a personal matter.
Three days later, on December 6th, Brickell was reportedly fired from his job at the NPCA, shortly after Niagara’s newly sworn in Regional Council appointed Bylsma and 11 others on the council to serve as interim members on the NPCA’s board for a period of three months.
Around the same time Brickell was fired under who knows whose authority, we later learn that the NPCA’s clerk, Lisa McManus, was made acting CAO and Barrick was rehired. Then days later, we learn that McManus has left on what was reported to be a “bereavement leave” and Barrick is now the acting or interim CAO.
The question for most, if not all members of the pubic who pay taxes to this agency is how did this all happen? And under whose authority did it happen, if they had any legitimate authority at all?
As St. Catharines citizen Ed Smith, a director of a citizens group called A Better Niagara, put it at an NPCA board meeting last February 20th, how is it that the agency apparently has three different individuals serving as CAO within the span of just a couple of weeks this past November and December?
Certainly, Smith told the current board members, members of the public who contribute to the more than $8 million the NPCA receives in municipal taxes in Niagara each year has a right to know.
Smith made that point to the board just one day before the board announced that it had reached the mutual separation agreement – “effective immediately” – with Barrick who, up to then, was back at the Conservation Authority, functioning as its “acting CAO”.
Meanwhile, Brickell filed a lawsuit against the NPCA for $2.3 million, claiming that he was illegally fired, and shortly after we find out about the agreement reached with Barrick we find out that two other individuals who had promoted to hire positions in the agency’s administration around the same time Barrick was rehired, then made acting CAO last December – Krystle Caputo and Michael Reles – went off on “stress leave.”
Will some kind of separation agreement or buyout package be negotiated with them next?
And how about Barrick?
Late last December, when Smith and other members of A Better Niagara went to court, where they successfully obtained a ruling that the board members appointed by the Region’s council on December 6th were, in fact, members of the new and current NPCA board, and that the old board members were out, Ontario Supreme Court Justice James Ramsay used the word “allegedly” to refer to Barrick’s status as acting CAO.
So when the current board, approved that agreement with Barrick this February, how did they know what status Barrick had with the Conservation Authority at the time the agreement was negotiated, if he still had any status with the agency at all?
If Brickell can go to court and argue that he was illegally fired, what about the person he fired before hand? Was Barrick legally rehired? Does anyone on the current board know?
There are serious questions that need answers here and for members of the news media and the public to be told by Bylsma and others on the board that the terms of the agreement with Barrick, along with the costs of any buyout package, cannot be disclosed is totally unacceptable.
This agency is funded with our tax dollars.
The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority is not a private business that belongs to the board or to Barrick or to anyone else serving in its administration. It is a public agency that is funded by us and is there to serve us, and we have every right to know how the money we fund it with is spent.
The NPCA’s board needs to disclose the terms and the cost of the agreement with Barrick now.
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