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
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.
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.
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.
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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