Open, Transparent and Accountable has to be More than a Campaign Slogan

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Caution, there is profanity, sarcasm and most likely grammatical errors contained within this blog….. Just saying!

For this post I will concentrate on the lack of transparency at the region. The shit show that has become the norm for local politics in Niagara over the past four years is unprecedented and not something I have experienced in my eighteen years on Niagara Falls city council.

It is just my opinion but I think that a number of local politicians have watched a few too many episodes of House of Cards and fancied themselves to be the local Frank or Claire Underwood. They think they are brilliant, charismatic, and far too important and powerful to be questioned.

Funny thing about old Frank though, life and fiction quickly became blurred when the actor Kevin Spacey was fired for allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment. Life imitating art in this case will in all likelihood end Kevin Spacey’s career, and the lives of those he is alleged to have harassed and assaulted may, in the end, get some justice but their lives will never be the same.

This group of politicians in Niagara may very well follow the same fate. Their arrogance and belief that they can do whatever they want and damn the consequences has caused them to be known locally as The Cabal or Good Old Boys Club. This group has harassed, lied, bullied, mobbed, intimidated, sued, sanctioned and fired any elected official, resident or staff persons that had the nerve to question their political decisions. Some have even gone as far as to try and shut up our local reporters who are trying to keep them accountable.

Let’s recap some attempts of certain regional councillors to shut down transparency over the past four years. These are in no particular chronological order.

#1- Don’t Answer Questions

The lines have become very blurred over the past four years.  It is supposed to be that staff members provide information to the public and council  and then the public, and councillors with questions about the issue at hand can ask them; then council answers the questions asked.………..oh I am sorry, did I think that out loud? Hahahahahaha….. what the heck was I thinking? You can’t ask questions of some of these politicians.

What” you say? “Residents, and elected officials can’t ask questions about the spending of public money, Carolynn? Surely your exaggerating? The candidates in 2014 all campaigned on openness, accountability and transparency. Surely, those elected officials would answer any question asked”?

I had to stop laughing out loud at that so I could continue to type…….. but sadly, it is true. It has become very difficult to get those open and transparent questions answered about money or policy answered. Even local elected officials have had to file Freedom of Information requests to get answers to their own questions on public money. So transparency hasn’t been a strong point for this regional council the last four years.

There are so many examples of this……. but let’s start with the NPCA. This seems to ground zero for lack of transparency over this past term.

The Niagara Provincial Conservation Authority is known locally as the NPCA. The board of directors is comprised of twelve local politicians appointed within the regional council by their peers. The following is posted on their website:

The objectives of an authority are to establish and undertake, in the area over which it has jurisdiction, a program designed to further the conservationrestorationdevelopment and management of natural resources other than gas, oil, coal and minerals. To meet this mandate, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) is governed by “Members of Authority” (often referred to as the Board of Directors) as per Section 14 of the Conservation Authorities Act.

Here are the names of the NPCA board of directors. Electors should remember these names when they go to the polls in October:

Councilor Sandy Annunziata– Fort Erie, Councilor Brian Baty– Pelham, Mayor Frank Campion- Welland, Mayor April Jeffs- Wainfleet, Councilor Paul MacPherson– Lincoln, Mayor Doug Joyner– West Lincoln, Mayor John Maloney– Port Colborne, Mayor Jim Diodati- Niagara Falls, Councilor Tony Quirk- Grimsby, Councilor Bruce Timms- St. Catharines, and Lord Mayor Patrick Darte– Niagara on the Lake.

Over past 4 years these politicians, who are supposed to be working for you, decided that instead of answering the difficult questions asked by local resident and retired Air Force major Ed Smith, they would sue him.

Yup…..they tried to sue a military veteran. With your money!!!!!

I say tried because not only did the NPCA lose its own lawsuit, in his decision Justice James Ramsey said the NPCA failed to demonstrate that its case against Major Smith had any merit. The judge strongly criticized this board stating that a government agency had no right to sue a citizen for criticising it.

 Ya think?

Not only did Ed Smith win, the NPCA was ordered to pay Mr. Smith’s costs to defend himself to the tune of $131,000. Add the costs of that the NPCA had to pay for their legal fees and you have hundreds of thousands of dollars not being used for conservation, restoration and management of our natural environmental resources. Instead the money was used to prop inflated bruised egos and to stop the flow of information that a public board should be providing to the public they serve.

#2- Use the Attack and Sanction Method to Shut up a Board Member.

   Among all this lawsuit chaos the NPCA board sanctioned one of its own members, Councillor Bill Hodgson, who btw, was against filing a lawsuit against Mr. Smith. Mr. Hodgson was accused by fellow board member Sandy Annunziata of tampering with the hiring process of an independent auditor to look into the dealings of the NPCA. Mr. Annunziata states he has a report confirming this tampering by an investigator hired by the board but refuses to release it. Apparently though he felt it prudent to humiliate Mr. Hodgson by sending an email to many local municipalities to tell other politicians that the NPCA had sanctioned Mr. Hodgson.

Wasn’t that nice of him?

I received that email and wondered how it was that Mr. Annuziata could inform other politicians, or anyone for that matter what took place in a closed session. But I quickly understood it for what it was. A very clear public smearing of a man’s reputation. Quite frankly it was a dick move by a big bully who thinks he is much more important than he really is.

Bill Hodgson stated that after his censuring he was relentlessly bullied and intimidated by his fellow members of the NPCA board until his health began to fail and he resigned from that board. He recently declared he would not be running for re-election because of that whole experience. His fellow councillors and NPCA board members set out to ruin and break him. And they succeeded.  They must be so proud of themselves. I whole heartedly believe Mr. Hodgson and can totally empathize with him.

I really hate bullies. Especially bullies who pound their chests and relish their their nastiness and behaviour. Because nobody has stopped them. You would think that would be Chair Al Caslin’s job, but no, he has been a severe disappointment as Chair and by allowing the harassment and bullying to continue he shows just exactly how weak he is as a leader.

It is infuriating to hear Mr. Annunziata justify his inflated regional expense account; or why the taxpayers have to pay for his travel expense to hype himself up on a Toronto radio show three or four times a month. But I think his most ridiculous explanation is of how, in a closed door session, his super vision spotted a recording device under a hat on the media table and he just knew it was recording a confidential session.

How did he know you ask?

It was his super Spidey heightened sense of awareness  that led him to become aware of  the presence of political skulduggery (yes, he really used that word). With his quick action and certainty he alerted the powers that be. His accusation ( that was wrong) caused the police to be called, reporter Bill Sawchuks laptop to be confiscated and Mr. Sawchuk removed from the council chambers. That caused a world-wide embarrassment for the region, an apology to be issued to Mr. Sawchuk, and his own fellow councillors denouncing the actions taken that evening. Did they sanction him? Of course not…….he is part of the clique. No throwing him under the bus. That council saves that for attacks on Mayor Dave Augustyn and the Town of Pelham.

#3- Try to Secretly get the Newspaper Editor/Manager Fired

There are some politicians at the region who have borrowed a stance from the Trump administration and now complain of “fake news”. Their belief in their self-importance runs so deeply that eleven of your elected officials attended a meeting initiated with Paul Godfrey, CEO of Postmedia complaining that they felt intimidated by the articles in the paper. Those in attendance were regional chair Alan Caslin, Port Colborne regional Coun. David Barrick, St. Catharines city councillors Sandie Bellows, Sal Sorrento and Mike Britton, Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik, Thorold Mayor Ted Luciani, West Lincoln Mayor Doug Joyner, Niagara Falls regional councillors Bart Maves and Selina Volpatti. (Niagara Falls Review, 2018)

The above politicians made several unsupported allegations of unethical reporting by the Standard under a section titled “Unbalanced Partisan Reporting, Columns and Editorials.” (Niagara Falls Review, 2018).

So let me simplify this for you. This Cabal, or Old Boys Club, or clique, didn’t like that their behavior and decisions as public officials were being questioned. They did not like the negative press and the way it made them look to the public so they decided to ask that the media be silenced and asked Postmedia to replace (fire) the managers of the local papers. Thankfully Postmedia did not do that.

No attempted abuse of power here. Nope…. none at all.

#4- Blame the Media for your Own Actions

At the last regional council meeting on July 5, 2018 Niagara Falls regional councilor Bob Gale stated that the council had to do something about Standard reporter Grant LaFleche, who has, in the past, been very critical of Mr. Gale and his role on the Police Services Board and the almost million dollar buyout of former Chief McGuire.

Mr. Gale stated that perhaps council shouldn’t pay any attention to LaFleche anymore. In this instance he was upset about the article in which Mr. LaFleche had written stating that the hiring of the CAO was improperly done. And while an Ombudsman’s report stated the hiring was not improper; attacking the press again and trying to stifle free speech because you don’t like what is being written in the press is far outside of the authority of an elected official. The press is part and parcel of being a politician and their job is keeping us accountable and if you can’t handle that, get out of politics, it’s not for you.

Upcoming Election- October 22, 2018

Here’s the thing about public service, and there is an election coming up soon so take notice.  We work for you. End of story. We are no better than anyone. We are no more special than anyone. We are all flawed individuals in one way or another. But when the candidates ask you to vote for them in October, whether they are new comers or incumbents, ask questions, lots of them. Compare past campaign promises or positions. See if the incumbent followed through on their promises.

Ask yourself if you want to re-elect people who have spent the past four years using
harassment, bullying and intimidation to make sure that public information is kept hidden.

There is nothing private about public money.  Any question about the spending of tax dollars should be able to be asked and answered by your elected officials.  Unfortunately, we have seen example after example at the region highlighting that is not the case. Maybe that is why a $50 million bridge became a $100 million bridge, because nobody asked the tough questions and continued asking them. That too is a subject for a future post.

Thanks for listening to me Think out Loud.

 

 

1 comments on “Open, Transparent and Accountable has to be More than a Campaign Slogan”

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