On Monday, October 31st, 2016 – A Day That Will Live In Infamy in the Annals of Regional Government in Niagara – Only Eight Regional Councillors Showed the Care and the Courage to Stand Up for What Was Right
On That Day, At That Time in the Region’s History, They Were the Only Real Heroes on That Council
So Thank You to Pelham’s Dave Augustyn, Thorold’s Henry D’Angela and Ted Luciani, St. Catharines Kelly Edgar, Brian Heit and Debbie MacGregor, Welland’s George Marshall and Lincoln’s Bill Hodgson
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted December 13th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
In my 40 years as a news journalist in Niagara, few reports I know of have received as volcanic a response from residents across the region than the one released by Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube this past November 29th; titled “Inside Job.”
Anger, outrage, betrayal and a loss of trust in Niagara Region as an institution were among the many responses I heard and had forwarded to me on Facebook and email to a report that described in detail an ongoing series of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres made by a cabal of now departed senior staffers and members of a regional council then chaired by Al Caslin.
They were manoeuvres that, according to the Ombudsman, compromised institutional processes at the Region in ways that were “unfair,” “wrong,” and “unjust” – to get Carmen D’Angelo, then CAO of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), hired to the CAO job at the Region in October 2016, then keep D’Angelo there for another three years past his first three-year contract.
All of this nefarious conduct was laid bare in the Ombudsman’s report for Niagara residents to read. And they were reading it in the backdrop of reports earlier this 2019 that D’Angelo left the $230,000 a year CAO job and filed a constructive dismissal lawsuit against the Region for more than $1 million of our tax dollars.
It all left residents across the region asking plenty of pointed questions, including one I have heard over and over again over the past two weeks since the report’s release – “Who voted to hire Carmen D’Angelo to the most important administrative job in Niagara municipal government in the first place?
I begin my answer to that question by responding that it takes far less time to list those who, on that fateful day in October of 2016, did not vote to hire him.
That is because only eight of the 25 directly elected regional councillors and Niagara mayors who then sat on the Region’s council and who made it to the shot-gun meeting Caslin set for that Monday morning (not a convenient time for anyone to attend such a meeting on such short notice) voted ‘NO’ to his hire.
In other words, only eight out of the 25 regional council members present at that October 31st, 2016 meeting showed the courage and cared enough about the possible consequences for their region and its people to vote “NO” to hiring Carmen D’Angelo to the chief administrative position in the largest municipal body in our Niagara region.
In this entire sordid CAO hiring affair, those eight were the only ones to vote ‘NO’ when it really counted, and they did so despite some behind-the-scenes lobbying and despite any and all fear of political reprisal from members of Caslin’s so-called cabal.
I believe it is important to remind ourselves who those brave and principled councillors were and here is one of the reasons why.
In the wake of the release of the Ombudsman’s report, with all of it damning details, there are at least a few others who sat on that regional council then, and at least one or two who still sit on it who are now going around, trying to tell the public that they had their concerns or misgivings about hiring D’Angelo at the time.
At least one or two who voted ‘YES’ to hiring D’Angelo and who, two years later, actually went on to vote in favour of apologizing to him for questions and concerns others were continuing to raise about the circumstances around his hiring, are now making a production out of thanking the councillors who voted ‘NO’ and thanking those members of the public and news media who had the guts not to roll over for this whole “Inside Job” business in the first place.
To them, I say; ‘Give us a break’.
To them, I ask; ‘What side of ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ did you choose on Monday, October 31st, 2019 when your vote really counted?’
If they were one of the majority on that council who voted in favour of hiring that guy, then I’m sorry. I’m not buying any of the misgivings they may say they had while leaving only a handful of others to vote ‘NO’ at the time.
In my view, they have found the ‘Road to Damascus’ about three or four years too late.
And it is not as if there wasn’t a well-marked map to that road at the time.
By October of 2016, there was already a long and growing record of serious questions and concerns about turmoil unfolding at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) under Carmen D’Angelo’s management.
By October 31st, 2016, there were citizens across Niagara calling on members of the regional council, and making calls to their own council representatives, not to hire D’Angelo’s to the Region’s top job. Some of them showed up at the front doors of the regional headquarters on the day of the October 2016 meeting, begging councillors on the way in not to vote ‘YES’ to hire him.
One particular St. Catharines resident – a community activist and a former Canadian Armed Forces officer named Ed Smith – went out of his way to prepare a detailed list of questions and concerns about D’Angelo’s record at the NPCA before the 2016 meeting that D’Angelo and the NPCA’s board later sued him over (a suit that was ultimately dismissed by the Ontario courts).
Brian Heit and Kelly Edgar, two St. Catharines regional councillors who sat the Region’s council at time and who continue to sit on it now, circulated Smith’s list to fellow councillors on the weekend before the October 31st meeting. And for that, they too were sued by another party who later saw his case against them die in the courts.
So to all those who those on the council who ignored all of this and voted to hire D’Angelo anyway, any religion you have found in the time since is no match for the magnitude of the damage this whole episode has done and continues to do.
Consider, just for starters, the untold amount of time and tax money wasted on this sordid affair – time and money that could have been spent on long-term care for seniors, affordable housing for struggling young families, public transit and so many other challenges our communities face.
Think about the wealth of talented regional staff, some of them pushed out and some of them who left the Region out of disgust or out of fear of being pushed out, that we have lost over the last three or four years.
Think about who we may otherwise have had serving our communities in the Region’s top administrative job – someone who might still be there today, steering efforts to shape our municipal services in ways that improve the lives of all of us.
Someone that most, if not all of us would feel proud to have in such an important position.
When I think about all of that, the only thing I want to hear from those who were on the regional council in 2016 and voted in favour of hiring D’Angelo is a flat-out, unconditional public apology.
That brings me back to the eight councillors who showed the courage of their convictions to vote “NO” to the hiring.
Those eight individuals were the only real heroes at that regional council meeting, on that day of October 31st, 2016.
They were then-Pelham mayor and regional councillor Dave Augustyn, then Thorold regional councillor Henry D’Angela, then Thorold mayor Ted Luciani, Kelly Edgar and Brian Heit, who continue to sit on the regional council for St. Catharines, then St. Catharines regional councillor Debbie MacGregor, then Welland regional councillor George Marshall and then Lincoln regional councillor Bill Hodgson.
They were the members of that council who deserve our thanks.
If there were only five or six more who showed their care and courage that day, we would not be stewing over this “inside job” and all of the damage it has caused and has cost the regional government and the people of Niagara to this day.
For those who are interested in who voted “yes” for hiring D’Angelo on October 31st, 2016, see the screen image immediately below –
Then Niagara-n-the-Lake regional councilor Gary Burroughs, along with Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekopp and Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton (both of whom continue to sit on the regional council), were absent from the meeting that day. Then regional councillor Al Caslin was there but did not cast a vote. The chair usually only votes to break a tie.
To read a commentary Niagara At Large posted days after the October 31st, 2016 vote, click on – /https://niagaraatlarge.com/2016/11/05/eight-regional-councillors-who-deserve-the-support-of-the-people-of-niagara
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