NPCA still owes Hodgson an apology
Board members of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority have an opportunity to do right by a former colleague. A simple act of courtesy and contrition is all it would take. And it might help the public get a sense that the NPCA is learning from its mistakes. The history is messy.
Former NPCA board member Bill Hodgson, a Lincoln regional councillor, will be exiting municipal politics this fall. The former mayor decided he’d had enough of the local governance scene after accusations were levelled he improperly interfered in the hiring process of an auditor to investigate the conservation authority.
Hodgson, who had put forward the motion to do the audit, received an email from a former colleague in the spring of 2017. That former colleague expressed interest in bidding on the audit project. Hodgson emailed a brief, one-paragraph reply.
“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.
What followed was an embarrassment for the NPCA, one of many looked into by Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s office, which took on the audit process after the authority abandoned its attempts to hire an outside consultant to do the job.
Hodgson was accused by NPCA board chair Sandy Annunziata, a regional councillor from Fort Erie, of corrupting the hiring process. An outside law firm from Toronto, Gowling WLG, was hired to investigate and produced a report which to this day the NPCA has not made public, although a copy of it was obtained by The Standard.
Based upon this report, the NPCA board censured Hodgson and Annunziata 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 and Haldimand. The letter said the findings of the Gowling report 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.”
This turns out to have been nonsense.
In her report released late last month, Lysyk refuted Annunziata’s and the NPCA’s interpretation of the email. While the auditor general’s audit did find examples of board members inappropriately interfering in day-to-day operations at the NPCA, Hodgson’s email did not constitute one of these instances.
“We did not consider (Hodgson’s) email to be in the same category,” Lysyk’s report says.
Annunziata has not responded to interview requests about Lysyk’s finding, and NPCA staff referred reporters to a 2017 interview Annunziata gave to another publication, a date which places it before the auditor general’s report was issued and thus makes the comments meaningless in the context of the AG report. As for Hodgson, he has moved on.
“I’ve already spoken my piece,” he said. “When I look at the audit, there are a lot more important things in there than the part about me.”
True, but that doesn’t make that small piece inconsequential.
What was done to Hodgson is emblematic of the problems that have plagued the NPCA..
That’s why an apology to a well-meaning elected official, who has been driven from public life by all that’s wrong at the NPCA, is important. It would be a small indication that those who lead the NPCA are changing their ways.
But there’s another reason beyond such political considerations: It would be the decent thing to do.