AG report clears former NPCA board member
The Auditor General had the last word on Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s censure of former board member Bill Hodgson — he didn’t do what he was accused of.
But the Lincoln regional councillor is in no mood to celebrate.
“I’ve already spoken my piece,” said Hodgson, who isn’t seeking re-election. “When I look at the audit, there are a lot more important things in there than the part about me.
“Clearly, from what they have said about Thundering Waters, they aren’t accepting the auditor’s conclusions — and Thundering Waters is really where all of this started.
“It’s just more of the same. They are determined to keep poking the public in the eye.”
In April 2017, NPCA board chair and Fort Erie regional councillor Sandy Annunziata
publicly censured Hodgson. He said Hodgson had corrupted the hiring process for an auditor.
NPCA hired Toronto law firm Gowling WLG, which produced a report Annunziata based the censure on. Annunziata claimed the report showed his accusations were facts, but would not release the report.
The Standard later obtained the document, which said Hodgson emailed a former colleague who expressed interest in bidding on the audit contract.
“Thank you for your interest in the process to undertake an operational review at the NPCA.
“I will be pleased to forward your email to the acting CAO … He has been directed by the board to initiate a competitive procurement process to retain the services of an independent third party,” Hodgson’s email read.
Annunziata told the NPCA board that Hodgson’s actions had “corrupted” the process and it was “not a situation we can tolerate.” The auditor hiring process was then cancelled.
NPCA circulated a letter announcing its decision to Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin and regional council as well as Niagara’s municipalities and the mayors and councils of Hamilton, Lincoln and Haldimand.
The letter said the findings of the Gowling investigation indicated Hodgson’s actions “could potentially and reasonably be seen by an objective observer as an attempt to influence the RFP process as an implicit endorsement in favour of a potential bidder.”
The Standard found the Gowling report is missing key information about the allegations and that the firm didn’t contact Hodgson when it produced the report, which Hodgson was not allowed to read when he was censured.
Hodgson responded by resigning from the board and accused board members of bullying him.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s report released late last month refuted Annunziata’s interpretation of the email.
“Our audit found other instances of board member involvement in day-to-day operations that could be perceived as exercising undue influence on staff,” Lysyk’s report said.
“We did not consider (Hodgson’s) email to be in the same category.”
Hodgson believes the animosity from some board members was driven by his attempts to chart a new course for NPCA in its response to public criticism of its operations, including the agency’s attempt to help a developer build on provincially protected wetlands in Niagara Falls.
NPCA’s advocacy — which was noted in Lysyk’s report — convinced many that the conservation authority had lost sight of its mandate. The agency’s failed $200,000 defamation suit against activist Ed Smith, who issued a report critical of NPCA’s practices, only added to the perception.
“I was trying to tell them they needed to take steps to rebuild public trust, which was one of their most important assets,” Hodgson said.
“It didn’t mean they were admitting guilt.
“What they did instead showed themselves to be tone deaf and unable to repair the damage. They doubled down on all of it and treated me as a coconspirator with Ed Smith.
“They thought I was just playing for ovations, but I’ve never done that in my life.”
Annunziata did not acknowledge multiple interview requests for this story.
In an email, NPCA spokeswoman Krystle Caputo said Annunziata will not discuss the Auditor General report because “only the auditor general may speak to her report.”