Never Mind Saying that the Key Players in Niagara Region’s CAO Hiring Scandal Have Suffered and Been Embarrassed Enough
Regional Councillors Should Remember the Real Victims of this Dark, Demoralizing and Costly Affair – The People Who Pay Their Hard-Earned Money for Good Governance in this Region
A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted December 4th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch, the municipal affairs critic for the Official Opposition Party of Ontario, did the right thing this December 4th when he wrote a letter to the province’s Police Commission, Thomas Carrique, urging him to launch an OPP investigation into the sordid circumstances around the hiring more than three years ago of Niagara Region’s now former CAO Carmen D’Angelo.
Indeed, the findings that Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube spent more than a year investigating and detailed in a lengthy report, appropriately titled “Inside Job” and released by his office his this past November 29th, are disturbing and disheartening enough to cause even the most positive-thinking people among us turn cynical about politicians, and about politics and government in general
I have hardly talked to a single person in the days since the Ombudsman’s report was released – people who I have met in a grocery store cash line, the parking lot of a local library … people I don’t even know – who are unaware of the findings in this report and who do not want the police called in to investigate any possibility of criminal conduct here.
That is why Niagara Centre MPP has done right by the people of Niagara in his call for a police investigation, and why at least a few Niagara regional councillors (two of them veteran RCMP officers) have openly said they believe the police should be brought in too.
Now it is time for the entire Niagara regional council vote for a police investigation into an episode that continues to have a shattering impact on public trust and confidence in municipal government in this region.
And our regional councillors the opportunity to make that call for a police probe and thereby begin the process of restoring peoples’ faith in our municipal institutions of government when they meet this Thursday, December 5th, starting at 3 p.m. to discuss what should be done about the findings in the Ombudsman’s report.
As well as talking to many of my fellow Niagara citizens out in the community in recent days, I have found my inbox full of email from people demanding to see more justice done here.
One of the people who emailed me expressed concern that MPP Burch’s call for an OPP investigation ‘might take regional councillors off the hook’ and make it easier for them to do what seems to be the usual; ‘Well, they’ve paid enough already. Let’s just move on.’
Given the scale of what has gone on here, and all of the immeasurable loss of time and money from the hiring of someone to the Region’s top administrative job who was arguably far from the best candidate for that job, and the loss to the Region of so many good staff people who were either pushed out or left in disgust – people who could have worked to improve the services residents and businesses across Niagara need – any move by this still relatively new regional council to not hold those responsible for this nightmare affair to full account IS NOT going to wash.
No one in a position of authority should be off the hook when it comes to calling for the right thing to be done for a citizenry who has been so egregiously victimized by those who, to use some of the Ontario Ombudsman’s language, “compromised” processes of governance in ways that were “unjust” and “wrong.”
As another Niagara resident put it in an email to me, Niagara’s regional councillors “should see the Ombudsman’s report as nothing less than the start of a full, robust and formal criminal investigation. … This does not end with the Ombudsman’s report. Petty criminals are penalized for far lesser offences in this country.”
And again, there is nothing petty about anything that happened here.
The cost in loss of public respect for municipal institutions and the loss of high-quality personnel in key positions at the Region – those costs alone, as immeasurable as they may be, are huge.
In a comment she shared with Niagara At Larger after MPP Jeff Burch made his call to Ontario’s Police Commissioner earlier this December 4th for a police investigation, Liz Benneian, a resident of Lincoln and director of the citizens watchdog group, A Better Niagara, summed up what I’ve been hearing from people all week –
“The Ombudsman’s investigations unveiled serious wrongdoing by previous chair Al Caslin, staff connected to his office and the Region’s former CAO,” she said.
“A police investigation is warranted to determine whether these significant breaches of public trust were criminal. Given the financial and reputational damage to the Region caused by these actions, citizens expect our current Council to do whatever they have to do to get to the bottom of it, including not only the what, but the why.”
Indeed, it was A Better Niagara, more than any other citizens group, that created a wave of support across Niagara to sweep out of office so many of those regional councillors who behaved like aiders, abettors and enablers of this hiring mess during the October, 2018 municipal elections.
It was a sweep that resulted in a turfing out of incumbent members of council that turned out to be unprecedented in the five-decade history of regional government in Niagara. And it included the politician at the top, Al Caslin, who polled a dismal 20th place in a field of 23 candidates in St. Catharines.
Many of those now sitting on the current regional council may want to remember, as they make their way to this November 5th’s special meeting, that they are there because voters in the 2018 election wanted a sweeping change away from a culture of enablers at the Region that helped make this costly hiring scandal possible.
This Thursday, December 5th marks almost a year to the day – December 6th, 2018 – that those on this new Niagara regional council took the oath of office at your inaugural meeting. And this may be the truest test yet of the pledge so many of you made to begin an era of integrity and respect for the values of fair, open democracy at the Region.
So honour that pledge.
Do the right thing by the people of Niagara and join the call for a full police investigation.
The people of this region will be watching to see what each and every one of you do.
To contact your member of Niagara regional council and let them know you want a police investigation of this affair, the contact information for your member or members is available by clicking on – https://www.niagararegion.ca/government/council/profiles/default.aspx .
If you would like to read the entire text of the report, Inside Job, click on the following link – https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/resources/reports-and-case-summaries/reports-on-investigations/2019/inside-job
To read news posted in Niagara At Large earlier this December 4th on Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch’s call for an OPP investigation, click on- https://niagaraatlarge.com/2019/12/04/breaking-news-niagara-centre-mpp-jeff-burch-calls-for-police-probe-into-cao-hiring-scandal-at-niagara-region/
For a taste of what citizen watchers of Niagara Region’s council had to witness during the past two or three years of debate and discussion over this CAO hiring affair, here is a clip from a 2018 regional council meeting, featuring two councillors in particular – Niagara Falls regional councillor Bob Gale, who is still there, and former Port Colborne regional councillor David Barrick (also a former administrator at the NPCA and now CAO for the City of Brampton – taking shots at The St. Catharines Standard for the investigative reporting it was doing on the story. As it turned out, and as the Ontario Ombudsman report shows, virtually everything uncovered in The Standard’s series of stories is true.
You can watch the clip by clicking on the following link – https://www.youtube.com/embed/ZeEIjptf9CA?start=9320
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