New Interim CAO Gayle Wood Sets Problem-Plagued Agency on Path to Renewal
A Brief Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted March 20th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
Spring did not officially begin until 5:58 p.m. this March 20th, but for member of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s (NPCA) board, its staff, and for members of the public who were there, it began more than six hours earlier at the board’s latest monthly meeting.
For the first time in at least six years, there were smiles on the faces of almost each and every person around the big room at the Ball’s Falls Centre for Conservation where the board meetings are routinely held.
For the first time in just as many years there was a feeling in the air that everyone, including members of the public and the media who, in recent years, have felt the need to say and to write things critical of the Conservation Authority’s senior staff and board, were welcome to attend.
And much of the reason for the end of what has been a very long and cold winter, and the arrival of spring with a real promise of renewal for this bruised and battered agency can be summed up in two words – Gayle Wood.
Gayle Wood, a professional conservationist with a history in the field that goes back decades to her days at the NPCA before moving on to the Ontario Ministries of Environment and Natural Resources, and other Conservation Authorities in the province, has been brought on by the NPCA’s recently appointed board to serve as an interim CAO for a number of months to help clean what has been described as the chaos and the controversy that has rocked this agency up.
She replaces David Barrick who (to repeat a word an Ontario Supreme Court Justice applied in a courtroom last December to Barrick’s status at the agency) “allegedly” was the NPCA’s acting or interim CAO after he was fired last November from his former administrative job at the Conservation Authority, then re-hired by members of an old NPCA board that refused to stand down until the same Ontario judge, James Ramsay, ruled that their time on the board was through.
Barrick was still carrying on as the NPCA’s acting CAO until late last February when the new board, made up of members from Hamilton and Haldimand County, and 12 interim members appointed from and by Niagara’s Regional Council, approved something called a “mutual separation agreement” as a way of seeing him off.
Gayle Wood began this March 20th by greeting members of the public inside the front doors of the Ball’s Falls Centre with handshakes and an offer of coffee and muffins as she took time to discuss their interests and concern around the conservation work the agency is mandated to do.
That, alone, stood in stark contrast to so many times over the past number of years where members of the public were greeted with sheets of paper tapped over glass doors while the NPCA’s board was meeting in closed session.
Once the meeting this March 20th got started, Wood rose to offer her assurances that she will work to see that the agency is “open and accountable to the public that basically drives the Conservation Authority with (funding from) their tax dollars.”
Later in the meeting, when one board member made reference to “a very nice SUV” that the agency had some form of lease or rental agreement for the last CAO to drive around, Wood informed the board that “the nice SUV is no longer with the Conservation Authority,” and that she is driving her own vehicle. She said she will be filing for mileage when she uses it for work and will not be taking monthly $1,000 vehicle allowance that the last CAO and other administrators who (as of a few weeks ago) are no longer at the agency.
Last but not lease, Wood took some time this March 20th to say some positive words for what remains of the rank-and-file staff at the NPCA which she called “hard working” and “dedicated” people who “have been deeply impacted by what has transpired here” in recent years.
In her first few weeks as interim CAO, Wood has taken the time to sit down and meet with members of the staff to discuss their concern and to talk about what they can all do together to get the NPCA back on positive tracks again. Sources this reporter has had at the NPCA over the past number of years – and I mean rank-and-file employees there who have been through hell – have, in recent days, said things to me like; “It’s like a brand new day” and “Thank God for Gayle Wood.”
Niagara At Large has also had it confirmed from good sources that a highly respected watershed restoration projects worker with the NPCA, Stuart McPherson, who was suddenly let go, much to the outrage of many citizens, while Barrick was still there as acting CAO, has been rehired.
What good news that is. McPherson is exactly the kind of employee an agency that is supposed to be restoring and protecting our watersheds needs. We have lost to many skilled and dedicated people like him, thanks to a group of individuals who more or less held this important agency for our environment hostage over the past five or six years.
And speaking of the chaos and controversy of the past five or six years, Wood and the new NPCA board has invited a special guest to its next meeting in April, and members of the public who care about this agency may want to attend this one to.
The guest is Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk who, after many months of investigation, last September released a scorching report on the NPCA’s operations under those who were overseeing the agency at the time. The report is loaded with recommendations the new board and staff have been presented with to make the NPCA work better for the public that funds it.
Stay Tuned to Niagara At Large for more as the NPCA’s board and management work to get this agency back to a place where it is an effective body for environmental protection and conservation.
To watch the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s March 20th board meeting, click on the screen below –
To read a story Niagara At Large posted this February on the hiring of Gayle Wood as the NPCA’s interim CAO, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2019/02/26/niagara-peninsula-conservation-authority-welcomes-interim-cao-gayle-wood/ .
To read a story Niagara At Large posted this past February about public anger around the sudden firing of NPCA employee (now rehired) Stuart McPherson, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2019/02/13/firing-of-another-respected-npca-employee-draws-public-anger-concern/ .
For a story Niagara At Large posted last September, 2018 on the Ontario Auditor General’s report on NPCA operations, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2018/09/27/weak-governance-and-operational-practices-at-niagara-peninsula-conservation-authority-ontario-auditor-generals-report-concludes/ .
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