Use of Re­gion-paid po­lit­i­cal fly­ers comes un­der fire

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Local - BILL SAWCHUK Wil­liam.Sawchuk@ni­a­

St. Catharines Coun. Brian Heit be­lieves in­for­ma­tional fly­ers dis­trib­uted by some of his fel­low re­gional coun­cil­lors have crossed the line when it comes us­ing Ni­a­gara Re­gion re­sources for campaign or po­lit­i­cal pur­poses.

“We have to find where the loop­hole is and stop it,” Heit said while re­quest­ing a staff re­port on the is­sue dur­ing the Re­gion’s cor­po­rate ser­vices com­mit­tee Wed­nes­day.

“We have to clean this up right now,” he added. “This is my in­tegrity. It is all of our in­tegrity that is be­ing called into ques­tion by the use of our re­sources.”

The coun­cil­lors in ques­tion — Port Col­borne’s David Bar­rick, Grimsby’s Tony Quirk and Fort Erie’s Sandy An­nun­zi­ata — said the fly­ers were com­pletely ap­pro­pri­ate. As coun­cil­lors, they said they have a duty to keep their con­stituents in­formed and saw noth­ing wrong with us­ing tax­payer funds to ac­com­plish that end.

“I think the res­i­dents of Fort Erie are very ap­pre­cia­tive of knowing the good work this coun­cil has done, es­pe­cially with projects in Fort Erie and the re­gion as a whole,” An­nun­zi­ata said. “I know my con­stituents are very grate­ful when they are up­dated with any flyer that goes out there.”

The rea­son­ing didn’t mol­lify Heit. He wants the staff re­port to in­clude de­tails on who au­tho­rized the prepa­ra­tion of the fly­ers as well as the cost. He also wants to know who ap­proved the dis­tri­bu­tion and the as­so­ci­ated cost and whether the coun­cil­lors used their ex­penses to have the pub­lic foot the bill.

Quirk said he had noth­ing to hide. He said he au­tho­rized the flyer. He had them printed and dis­trib­uted and ex­pensed the ex­er­cise when the Re­gion’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions shop couldn’t meet his dead­line. “The cost was $1,500 to dis­trib­ute 10,000 of them,” Quirk of­fered up with­out be­ing asked. “It is the same thing my pre­de­ces­sor did when she pub­lished news­pa­per ads and ex­pensed them back to the Re­gion. I used the past prac­tice as best prac­tice.

“I will be happy to have the con­ver­sa­tion with any­one who wants to have it, es­pe­cially my con­stituents who were happy I up­dated them.”

Port Col­borne city coun­cil put the is­sue into the spot­light ear­lier this week when the mayor and coun­cil­lors took turns lam­bast­ing Bar­rick for us­ing the flyer to con­trast the city’s prop­erty tax and wa­ter bill in­creases to those at the re­gional level.

In a Metroland story, city trea­surer Peter Se­nese said the com­par­isons were un­fair. Port Col­borne, he said, has had stag­nant as­sess­ment growth, while the Re­gion can rely in part on high as­sess­ment growth in mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties such as Grimsby and Ni­a­gara Falls to keep in­creases down.

Heit said he con­tacted a for­mer Re­gion com­mu­ni­ca­tions em­ployee and en­quired about past prac­tices with re­gard to fly­ers and the use of the Re­gion lo­gos.

“I was told it wasn’t done in the past and any­thing that had a re­gional logo was care­fully re­viewed and was never al­lowed to be self-serv­ing.”

Re­gion CAO Car­men D’An­gelo had a testy ex­change with Heit. He said it wasn’t ap­pro­pri­ate to ask staff for a re­port that re­quired com­ment on coun­cil­lor be­hav­iour.

“That is not the role of staff,” he said. “If you have an is­sue with the code of con­duct, my ad­vice is that it is an in­tegrity com­mis­sioner com­plaint.”

“I’m not ask­ing you for an opin­ion,” Heit replied. “I’m not ask­ing you about a code of con­duct com­plaint. I am not ask­ing you for a com­ment on the ex­pense pol­icy. I am ask­ing you specif­i­cally for in­for­ma­tion about who au­tho­rized this and what it cost. When I get the in­for­ma­tion, I will de­ter­mine what to do with it.

“And the pub­lic will as well.”

Sandy An­nun­zi­ata

Brian Heit

Tony Quirk

David Bar­rick

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