Niagara Residents Deserve Real Justice Out of D’Angelo-Caslin Administration Hiring Controversy

The Consequences for any Wrongdoers Should Fit Whatever Wrongdoing Ontario’s Ombudsman Finds

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

Posted November 1st, 2019 on Niagara At Large

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube’s long anticipated report on all of the controversy surrounding the hiring of former Niagara Region CAO Carmen D’Angelo is now within weeks of being released

The long wait is almost over.

After 14 months of investigating, Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube is now two weeks away from letting members of Niagara’s Regional Council get their very first, behind-closed-door peak at his office’s draft report on a hiring controversy that has shaken public trust in our regional government for at least three years.

Indeed,  it was exactly three years ago this past October that Al Caslin, who was  Niagara Regional chair at the time, alled a snap meeting of  council  where, at the end of it, a majority of councillors agreed to hire Carmen D’Angelo – who already had, in the minds of many members of the public, a chequered record as CAO at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) – as the chief administrative officer (CAO) at the region – a job that  involves enormous responsibility and commands an annual salary of $230,000 plus benefits.

D’Angelo’s hiring  drew questions and concerns right from the start, and over the next two years they intensified as members of the public read one media expose after another about the circumstances surrounding it.

Now former Niagara regional chair Al Caslin and the Region’s former CAO Carmen D’Angelo, when they were still running the show two years ago. file photo by Doug DraperThere were reports of allegations thabefore he was hired, D’Angelo had  received from someone working in or around Caslin’s office a list of other candidates running for the CAO job – information that no candidate for any public servant position should be given access to. There were reports that he allegedly received access to at least  some of the questions he would be asked during his job interview.

Denials came from D’Angelo’s and Caslin’s office at almost every turn. And discussions at regional council meetings got uglier and uglier as a handful of councillors (and, unfortunately, it was only a handful) showed the courage to openly raise questions about the circumstances around D’Angelo’s hiring. 

One of the last straws for an already angry public came last year when a story by St. Catharines Standard reporter Grant LaFleche contained charges that Caslin, without first informing or having any discussions with regional council, extended  D’Angelo’s CAO contract for another three years – an extension that allegedly guaranteed D’Angelo  all his pay for those three years,  even if he happened to get fired.

One low point came two years ago when St. Catharines Standard reporter Bill Sawchuk (at right in this photo) had his computer confiscated and was then ordered out of the Niagara regional headquarters during an evening when Al Caslin and the council were in session. An earlier Ombudsman report ruled that the powers-that-be at the Region were wrong to take the computer and throw the reporter out. Photo by Emily Spanton

As the controversy continued to intensify, some members of the public organized a group called A Better Niagara – a citizens watchdog organization that remains active to this day – and urged their fellow citizens across the region to vote Caslin and those on the council with a record of standing  with him out of office in the October 2018 municipal elections.

The drive by the Better Niagara group was largely successful with Caslin, for one, polling near the bottom of a list of more than 20 candidates competing for six regional council seats in St. Catharines.

Headlines like this in local newspapers became commonplace over the past few years

Following the 2018 municipal election and the swearing in of the new regional council, including former St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley as Regional Chair, D’Angelo left the CAO job under circumstances that are still not fully known, and later filed a lawsuit against the Region, charging it, at least in part, for “constructive dismissal.”

Now Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube, whose office  heeded  calls from from  growing  numbers of Niagara citizens to launch an investigation in August of 2018, has notified the Region that his draft report is ready.

A closed door meeting with regional council has been scheduled for November 14th,  giving councillors  a chance to review and comment on the report before it is finalized and made public.

“I think most members of council will say this is a much-anticipated report,” said Bradley to a local newspaper about the report’s imminent release.

That is most certainly true, and let’s hope that members of regional council also keep  in mind how anticipated this report is by the people of Niagara. 

Please keep in mind that it is the people of Niagara who have had  their faith and confidence in municipal government at the regional level shaken and, in the case of some, have found themselves being  verbally insulted for having the audacity to exercise their democratic rights by going to regional council to speak out.

During Caslin’s time Niagara regional chair, this sign was featured on the walls in and outside the council chambers. Apparently they were aimed at members of the public attending the meetings. Some members of the public felt they should have been a message for the council were civil conduct too often took a nose dive. With Jim Bradley as regional chair, civility has made a significant comeback and the signs have been taken down.

It is the people of Niagara who watched far to much time and far too much of their  tax money being wasted on all of this when it could and should have been spent improving municipal services in their communities.

So when the Ontario Ombudsman’s report is at long last tabled, our current representatives on regional council should make damn sure – on behalf of the people who put them there – that any  repercussions or consequences they decide on are equal to any and all insults and costs to our system of municipal governance that are identified in that report.  

Please spare us any more secretly negotiated deals or mutually agreed to  settlements,  with brief statements about how “pleased” everyone is attached to them. 

After all that our region has gone through over the past four or five or more years, we, the people of Niagara, deserve to see some real justice done here.

And this time, we better get it.

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

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

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