Despite allegations made in media reports, Ombudsman finds no evidence of unlawful conduct
BY VOICE STAFF
A third-party investigation into the hiring of Niagara Region CAO Carmen D’Angelo has cleared the Region, and D’Angelo, of any wrongdoing.
On the heels of a St. Catharines Standard investigation in April, which alleged improprieties in D’Angelo’s 2016 hiring process, Regional Council voted to hire an outside investigator to determine whether the allegations had merit.
The Region hired ADR Chambers, an international firm that describes itself as the world’s largest alternative dispute resolution service.
In turn, ADR Chambers assigned Toronto attorney Marvin Huberman to head its investigation.
Huberman possessed the same authority granted to the provincial ombudsman under the Municipal Act.
Given a June 30 deadline to complete his work, Huberman presented his findings at last Thursday’s Regional Council meeting.
Huberman found that the allegations contained in the original Standard article, written by reporter and columnist Grant LaFleche, as well as others published later, were not supported by the facts.
In an exhaustively detailed, 43-page report, Huberman systematically addresses each concern raised by the Standard. (The full report is available at: www.thevoiceofpelham.ca/adr )
“I obtained and reviewed more than 200,000 documents,” he writes, “including copies of all records, emails, texts, memos, letters, handwritten notes, calendars, and other documents….”
Huberman dismisses concerns that D’Angelo’s hiring was “predetermined,” describing the assertions as based on innuendo, gossip, deliberately false information, and “an improper disregard for clear and cogent evidence that is relevant.”
“Based on the overall weight of the evidence,” writes Huberman, “I am of the opinion, and conclude, that the decision to hire Carmen D’Angelo as the new CAO was not predetermined by Regional Council or [the hiring committee].”
Huberman interviewed 16 individuals, including members of Region staff, five councillors, and three representatives of the head-hunting company hired to fill the position.
One person he didn’t interview was the Standard’s LaFleche, stating, “Grant LaFleche did not respond to an interview request made on my behalf on May 29, 2018.”
Huberman said that all 16 interviews were coordinated by Acting Regional Clerk Ann-Marie Norio. Only LaFleche did not respond.
Invited to comment by email, LaFleche said he did not receive such a request.
“Neither I, nor my editor, received a request for an interview with Mr. Huberman,” asserted LaFleche. “They made one attempt that didn’t reach me, and didn’t follow up. Not a lot of initiative shown there. My contact information by email, phone and social media is readily available and dialing a phone number isn’t difficult.”
However, LaFleche acknowledged that even had he consented to an interview, Huberman wouldn’t have gone away with much.
“I am not allowed to reveal the identity of a source without that source’s permission. So anything I would have told Mr. Huberman would be confined to anything we have already made public record in our initial expose, follow-up stories, a podcast series and interviews I have done on CKTB.”
He points out that Huberman did not interview witnesses who refused to identify themselves, thereby depriving the investigation, in LaFleche’s view, of the whole picture.
“In short, while I have no doubt Mr. Huberman is a professional and very competent lawyer, he simply did not have the same information or sources we did. If anything, his report did highlight details and other issues with the CAO hiring process that we did not find in our initial coverage, and that we will continue to pursue.”
Speaking before council last Thursday, Huberman noted that journalists enjoy relatively greater freedom in their presentation of assertions, compared to a judicial or quasi-judicial process, in which anonymous allegations are only hearsay, and not admissible as evidence.
Speaking on condition that the Voice not share the person’s position, name, or gender, a source claiming intimate familiarity with the documents possessed by the Standard says that they would not withstand serious legal scrutiny and would not be admissible in court.
“This talk of ‘breadcrumbs’ and ‘metadata.’ I know what they have,” says the source, whose claim the Voice was unable to independently corroborate. “And I know it can be faked. You want to create a document which was ‘written’ in 1992, or 2014? All you need to do is go into your computer’s preferences and change the date and time. Create [the document], then reset to today’s date.”
LaFleche declined to respond directly, writing in an email that he had no comment “beyond what we have already reported.”
Council voted to accept Huberman’s findings, and also passed a motion to apologize to D’Angelo for “personal perceived damage” to his reputation from the report.
“I thank Ombudsman Huberman for his comprehensive report that reaffirms my integrity throughout the recruitment process,” said D’Angelo. “I am grateful for Council’s apology, and I am thankful Regional Council has accepted the recommendations contained within the Ombudsman’s report which will only strive to improve the governance of the corporation.”
D’Angelo’s mention of recommendations refers to the report’s closing pages, in which Huberman identifies his own concerns related to good governance and acceptable conduct at the Region.
Specifically, he recommends that council hire an independent external governance auditor to evaluate its “existing governance framework, identify specific issues and concerns,” and recommend any needed changes in practice in a report to be completed by the end of the year.
The Voice requested comment from all Regional councillors, Chair Alan Caslin, D’Angelo, and Rob D’Amboise, policy director for the Chair. Comments received by press time appear below.
Councillors react to Ombudsman’s report
The Voice requested comment from all Regional councillors, Chair Alan Caslin, CAO Carmen D’Angelo, and Rob D’Amboise, policy director for the Chair. The following responses were received, and are printed in their entirety.
Councillor Brian Baty
The Ombudsman’s presentation and report were received by Regional Council last Thursday. I was impressed by the thoroughness and detail of his review. His conclusions exonerate all parties from any wrongdoing in the selection process for the CAO. That should be seen as good news by the citizens of Niagara. However, he also reported the widespread problems of rumours, innuendos and falsehoods spread by some members of Council and certain media. His proposals for Council to plan for a concerted improvement to our individual and collective professionalism are lofty goals and well worth pursuit by the next Council.
Councillor Bob Gale
To have Mr. LaFleche write an article that has been classified as “rumour, gossip, misinformation, and an improper disregard for clear evidence,” as well as other comments—and to also hear that he would not be interviewed or even respond to the request—causes me great concern about the negativity of this individual and the damage he constantly does to various organizations in the Niagara Region. It is not hard for others and myself to see that this reporter has an agenda against the management of the Police Board, the NPCA, and the Region and he has cost our citizens well over $100,000 in investigations to prove his poor reporting. For him to state that the Mayor of Pelham had his Code of Conduct charges “dismissed” was terribly biased reporting, as the finding clearly stated, “I find that there was a violation by Councillor Augustyn of the confidentiality provisions of the code.” For him to attack the Police Board for not being transparent and stating that the former Chief was paid $870,000 in a retirement settlement, and not give the other facts regarding the savings of this money over a three-year period by our new Chief, was poor and incomplete journalism. To not go after the Mayor of St. Catharines for not releasing and being transparent on the retirement package given to their former CAO, nor the package given to the St. Catharines Solicitor, who promptly left after a $1 million donation was botched from the Niagara Ice Dogs—shows to me that Mr. LaFleche has favourites on Council who he will not negatively report on. Is it because they are all Liberals? Certainly appears that way to me.
Councillor Selina Volpatti
I am pleased with the thoroughness, comprehensiveness and insight of Mr. Huberman’s report. His key finding is that the hiring process was lawful, reasonable, and just. Furthermore, Mr. D’angelo has proven his worth to the residents of Niagara, and all of our employees here at Niagara Region, with his professional leadership, and specifically with the institution of internal controls which have been sorely lacking in this Corporation. There are many other accomplishments I would be happy to tell you about. I am also pleased that a majority of Council supported an apology to Mr. DAngelo, and to Mr. D’Amboise, for any slur on their reputations this may have caused. I remain concerned that there is a leak among Niagara Region Councillors, so that the selection of Mr. D’Angelo was known to protesters who appeared at Regional Headquarters, long before his name was known to me, and to most others. I believe that it is now known that Councillor Heit released this confidential information, and that the names of those to whom he gave the information is known. This breech of confidentiality should be the subject of an investigation by the integrity commissioner. It’s not only a breech of the code of conduct, it is a breech of our oath of office.
Councillor Tony Quirk
I am pleased that the Ombudsman found no wrong doing or tainting of the process in the hiring of the CAO.
Councillor Sandy Annunziata
The outcome doesn’t surprise me. We keep seeing the same individuals spreading the same inaccurate and deliberately misleading information. After hearing Huberman deliver his report to Council and his scathing criticism of relying on rumour, gossip, innuendo and hearsay, why the Standard newspaper continues to allow untested articles be published goes beyond me. By Huberman’s account, which involved access to over 200,000 pieces of evidence, the entire controversy seemed concocted and then aided and fueled by the St Catharines Standard. Once again taxpayers of Niagara have to foot yet another bill for another manufactured controversy.