Ombudsman closes file on contentious 2016 chief administrative officer hiring (Standard Reporter)

September 13, 2022

13 September 2022

Niagara Region implemented all 16 recommendations from J. Paul Dubé’s report

Bill Sawchuk
This link opens in a new tabStandard Reporter
Sept. 13, 2022

Ontario Ombudsman J. Paul Dubé has confirmed that his office is closing the file on Niagara’s tainted 2016 chief administrative officer hiring process, expressing thanks for co-operation he experienced from the Region.

In the letter to Regional chair Jim Bradley, the Ombudsman confirmed that Regional council has successfully implemented all 16 recommendations found in his 2019 “Inside Job” report.

Reporting by the St. Catharines Standard sparked the investigation into the hiring of Carmen D’Angelo to serve as chief administrative officer.

Reporter Grant LaFleche found that D’Angelo had been provided with “confidential documents” before and during the 2016 hiring process, which were leaked by insiders in former Regional chair Alan Caslin’s office — which “played a central role in the hiring process” — despite not being part of the official recruitment committee.

D’Angelo left his post at the Region before the Ombudsman’s report was published, and filed a $1.15-million constructive dismissal suit against the Region. The municipality filed a counter-suit against D’Angelo, who asked the Region to settle the legal action for $500,000. The Region rejected that request.

The Ombudsman’s letter indicates “no further follow up reports are required and my office will be closing our file in this matter” given council’s willingness to implement these changes.

“While the 2016 chief administrative officer hiring process, and the resulting fallout, will long be remembered as a stain on the Region’s reputation, this term of council made it a top priority to take immediate action on this matter,” Regional chair Jim Bradley said in a news release. “As a team, we implemented all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations, ensuring we took every step necessary to prevent this type of controversy from occurring again.

“I want to thank Mr. Dubé, and his staff, for the exceptional report and recommendations, as well as their commitment to work with us as we implemented policies to make the Region more open, fair and transparent. The residents of Niagara deserved better, and these new policies and practices will help make sure we are living up to our constituents’ appropriately high expectations.”

The 71-page “Inside Job” report responded to over 110 formal complaints registered with the Ontario Ombudsman’s office by members of the public. The complaints called on the Ombudsman to investigate how the 2016 chief administrative officer hiring process was carried out, and a host of other related issues.

In addition to providing an extensive overview of the situation and his findings, Dube gave regional council recommendations to help avoid similar issues in the future including:

  • Implementing a formal code of ethics and policies to protect confidential information, including employment contracts, and that anyone involved in a hiring process is required to sign a confidentiality agreement;

  • Providing staff and councillors with additional training on the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act as well as the proper use and retention of email and corporate records;

  • Creating policies that ensure no candidate is given an unfair advantage in a hiring process (including sharing interview questions and answers with one specific individual);

  • Limiting the role and influence of staff in the regional chair’s office as to avoid them undermining the professional staff throughout the corporation;

  • Adopting a formal hiring and performance appraisal process for the chief administrative officer;

  • Adopting a bylaw outlining the relationship between the chief administrative officer and regional council, including council’s authority in setting compensation;

  • Ensuring that the Region’s legal and human resources staff review all changes made to employment contracts before making changes;

In addition to the full list of recommendations in the report, the Ombudsman also recommended Niagara Region report publicly, and to his office, on the progress being made to implement the above recommendations. With the file now closed, the Ombudsman is satisfied his recommendations have been effectively implemented.