Regional Councillor keeps position after near-ambush at May 21 Town Council meeting

Special to the VOICE

Pelham’s Niagara Regional Councillor Diana Huson will remain in her position as the Town’s representative on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) after a surprise vote on the job at the May 21 Pelham Town Council meeting.

The unexpected ballot came about after a report from Mayor Marvin Junkin, which outlined a request from the NPCA that each municipality choose their respective representative by July 31.

Huson has been vice-chair of the NPCA board since January, helping oversee the organization in the wake of a previous management scandal that resulted in a scathing report by Ontario’s auditor general.

Despite her contribution, Pelham council’s vote to keep Huson as the Town’s rep passed just 4-3, with Junkin casting the tie-breaking vote in her favour.

The split was over job guidelines suggested to the NPCA based on a model in place in Alberta. That matrix recommends civilian appointments with a specialty in the field over public sector appointments. However, the NPCA has yet to officially adopt a skills matrix for its board members, something recommended by Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk in her report.

“Like many other municipal councils in Niagara that have decided to appoint a resident for this term, I too felt that it was appropriate to ensure environmental subject matter expertise was appointed to the NPCA,” said Ward 3 councilor Lisa Haun, who voted against retaining Huson.

Just six of the NPCA’s 18 current board members are civilians, with the board being led by Chair Dave Bylsma, the mayor of West Lincoln.

Haun seemed perplexed as to why Pelham wouldn’t consider the Auditor General’s recommendation of a skills matrix.

“By virtue of being an emergency manager I recognize the importance of subject matter expertise in making important decisions that impact the safety of people and property and the safety of drinking water,” she said. “I suggested we allow interested residents to submit their applications to council then use the competency matrix that was provided.”

Huson was caught off guard by the surprise vote, mainly because it appeared to come out of nowhere after her regional councillor’s report.

In chambers and later, she stressed her work in helping bring the NPCA out of its dysfunctional recent history.

“I’ve spent the past five months providing leadership in improving the overall operations and creating a better governance model,” Huson said. “I believe I was appointed because my Town counterparts recognized the great work, leadership and skills I add as a representative, but also acknowledge the value in having a diverse board with a broad range of competencies.”

While the new NPCA guidelines could lead to some turnover on its board in July, Mayor Junkin told the Voice that the May 21 vote is set to keep Huson as the Town’s representative for up to four years.

“They’ve done a great job, it was total chaos when [Huson and Bylsma] took over,” Junkin said.

Pelham actually has the ability to put two residents on the NPCA board. If they and other municipalities used their full allotment, it would increase the board’s size to 27 — something there appears to be little appetite for.

“That’s a ridiculously high number,” Haun said.