On Thursday night last week Niagara Regional Council debated what actions they should take in reference to the St. Catharines Standards story regarding the process to hire CAO Carmen D'Angelo being tainted by a violation of critical confidentiality rules. The facts, as presented, have meant that D'Angelo was given preferential information and treatment in the competition.
Mayor Walter Sendzik of St Catharines was quoted in a Standard interview saying that if the memo was sent to D'Angelo it would be "a serious breach of confidentiality. It tears at the integrity of the process, and I expect that, if this is true, there is swift action and consequences."
The call, prior to Thursday's Council meeting, was for a complete investigation of the hiring process and, according to Sendzik, that investigation should be led by someone who is "totally independent, that is independent of the regional chair's office, and that is independent of staff and the CAO."
As soon as Sendzik’s motion was presented, Councillor Tony Quirk suggested an amendment that would assign the independent investigation to Toronto-based ADR Chambers.
Quirk was on the 5-person committee originally formed to select the new CAO and, therefore, the investigation may potentially reveal problems in the process that would involve him as a member of that committee. In my opinion, the involvement of Quirk, or any of the CAO hiring committee members, in the selection of the firm to conduct the investigation, has already undermined the independence of the investigation.
I believe the five members of the hiring committee — Welland Mayor Frank Campion, Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton, Niagara Falls Reg. Coun. Bob Gale Councillors, Tony Quirk and Regional Chair Al Caslin — should have had no say in who will be investigating the hiring process. Nonetheless, Quirk came to the council meeting to push for hiring ADR Chambers and Walter Sendzik accepted Quirk's amendment to his motion.
There is also an issue of independence with ADR Chambers: they have a contractual relationship with the Region as they are currently employed by the Region to act in the role of Integrity Commissioner. From my perspective this makes ADR anything but independent. This is not to impugn the reputation or work of ADR, but the fact that they are already under contract with the Region should in and of itself exclude them from this investigation, if it is meant to be 'totally independent one', as Mayor Sendzik had suggested. In presenting ADR as the only right choice for this investigation, Quirk argued that none of the other firms in the province were capable of doing the investigation for one reason or another.
Quirk further argued that the Ombudsman could not be counted on to finish the investigation before June. If the Ombudsman needed more time, we say let them have it. It should not be a matter of getting the investigation done fast, it should be a matter of getting it done right.
The citizens of Niagara are in a crisis of trust with this Regional Government, and the April 12th selection of ADR Chambers to perform this investigation only adds to that. The fact that the only firm that was recommended is a firm that is already employed by the Region, and the fact that recommendation comes from one of the five people who were involved in CAO D'Angelo's hiring process, means that the chance of this investigation being independent, or being seen to be independent, is now at risk from the outset.
The people of Niagara have had enough of this Council, and the crisis in confidence and lack of good governance has reached a boiling point. Citizens deserve transparency, integrity and accountability from our elected officials. We are entitled to it. If this investigation reveals the Standard's story to be true, and the hiring of Carmen D'Angelo was aided by supplying him with inside information, then it is not only D'Angelo that must go — any Regional Councillors or staff involved need to be held accountable.
We deserve better than this for our tax dollars, we deserve A Better Niagara.