NPCA still owes Hodg­son an apol­ogy

The Niagara Falls Review - - Opinion -

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.

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