A Message to Niagara’s Regional Council – Use the Ontario Ombudsman’s Findings as an Opportunity to Restore some Public Trust in Regional Government

A News Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted November 14th, 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 being reviewed by Niagara’s regional council, and may be only days away from being made public.

As I write this, Ontario’s Ombudsman Paul Dube has reportedly been in a closed meeting with Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley, Niagara’s 12 mayors and other members of the Region’s council where they were getting their first look at a report that Dube and his investigators prepared on conduct that, over the past three or four years, did a good deal to  shatter whatever  trust many area resident may have had  left in regional government.

The investigation and report – more than a year in the making – was largely sparked by information,  uncovered and reported in the local media, that the hiring three years ago of former Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority CAO Carmen D’Angelo to the position of CAO at the Region was carried out in ways that were highly questionable, to say the least.

Now former Niagara regional chair Al Caslin and the Region’s former CAO Carmen D’Angelo, overseeing a regional council meeting  two years ago. A File photo by Doug Draper

Allegations of wrongful conduct continued to surface over the past two or three years. More than a few of those allegations focused on members of former Niagara regional chair Al Caslin’s  staff, and on Caslin himself, including reports of him single-handedly or almost single-handedly brokering a three-year extension of D’Angelo’s CAO contract, without first  meeting with members of council to seek their approval.

Along with all of that, there were the sideshows Niagara residents were forced to endure, including a lack of civil conduct on the part of a number of members of Caslin’s council that I, for just one, found unprecedented in my 40 years of following municipal politics in this region,

And there was the treatment of some residents of this region who came to the council to raise concerns, only to be treated in a manner that was contemptible, to say the least.

So as a professional journalist who has spent decades following my share of the good, bad and ugly in politics, and as just one tax-paying citizen of this Niagara region, what I want to say to those regional councillors who are getting their first look at the findings in the Ombudsman’s report is this.

Now hom much justice will the people of Niagara get after all of this?

If the Ombudsman’s report comes down hard on certain individuals involved in all of this alleged ill-conduct and controversy, our members of council should be prepared to come down just as hard on any and all of the individuals so identified.

This Ombudsman’s investigation alone- more than a year in the making – has likely cost the taxpayers of this province hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars that could have been spent on health care or protecting the environment.

And all of the matters around the hiring of former CAO and the questionable actions of others have likely cost the taxpayers of this region millions of dollars more that could have been spent on affordable housing, long-term health care, policing, transit and other service challenges we face across this region.

What I am saying to Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley and members of our regional council is that the people of Niagara  deserve to see some real justice done after all of this.

It may be several days or weeks before the rest of us finally get to see the findings in the Ombudsman’s report.

And when we do, please don’t leave us with little or nothing more than news that ‘mutually agreed to settlements’ have been reached with significant others that you are forbidden to say anything  more about them – end of story and let’s try to be happy with that and move on.

I believe I am making a pretty safe bet that if that’s the kind of news we get, there is no way it will wash for an answer. It will only service to make people feel more cynical about politics and politicians, and about all things regional government, than far too many do now.

I urge you to please use the findings of this Ombudsman’s report and your response to them as an opportunity to restore peoples’ faith and trust in regional government.

  • Doug Draper, Niagara At Large

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