Tuesday May 21, 2019
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Questions remain about mass firings at Region

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Monday morning at Niagara Region headquarters saw sweeping changes at the senior management level as acting CAO Ron Tripp, just one day on the job, fired four directors and one communications staffer. Tripp has stated publicly that the decision to terminate the five employees was his and his alone and was not politically motivated in any way. However, that hasn’t stopped many councillors from feeling frustrated with the lack of information being provided to them.

Some councillors have said they are looking forward to asking questions at the Jan. 17 meeting. Niagara Falls mayor and regional councillor Jim Diodati said he’s heard many councillors would like some answers. “In light of some of the unexpected terminations that took place so expeditiously, there are some raised eyebrows and lots of unanswered questions that I’m sure will be asked at the next council meeting.” Diodati went on to say that many of his colleagues were hoping for a smoother start to the term. “I was looking forward to hitting the reset button at the Region and unfortunately this isn’t the direction many of us expected.”

Some of the new councillors did not want to discuss the issue in detail, respecting the confidentiality that goes along with personnel issues, but did say they have some questions about how things happened and why. St. Catharines regional councillor George Darte said, “I need to find out more information before making a comment.” Fellow first-term regional councillor Peter Nicholson of Niagara Falls said he too didn’t want to get into the details before the next council meeting, but stated he would like more clarity on what happened and the reasons behind it.

The transparency around Monday’s terminations was in stark contrast to when former (permanent full-time) Niagara CAO Harry Schlange who, upon his arrival at the Region in 2013, was clear with councillors about his restructuring plans. Acting CAO Ron Tripp, who hasn’t gone through a hiring process and is not the permanent CAO, did not inform anyone he was making such significant changes.

Pelham Mayor Marv Junkin said that while technically councillors didn’t need to be told in advance about the firings, he felt given four of the staff were of the director level councillors should have been given a heads-up. He also expressed disappointment that employees were terminated so close to Christmas. “A lot of bigger employers won’t terminate staff after Nov. 15,” he said. “Firing these people eight days before Christmas made the Region look classless.” Junkin said he is looking forward to the next meeting in January and finding out why things transpired the way they did. “This sure could have been handled differently. I find it hard to believe all these people weren’t doing their jobs satisfactorily, it makes you wonder if there isn’t something else going on.”

St. Catharines regional councillor Sandie Bellows reached out to Chair Bradley to request a special meeting. “I don’t want to wait until the third week of January for our next meeting,” she said. Bellows said Bradley informed her that he heard about the firings at the same time as the rest of council. He said he would need to check with Tripp about calling a special meeting. Bellows said she’s not pointing fingers or taking sides but that she just wants the truth to be told. “What motivated this? What was the justification?” She also said if this move will cost tax-payers a lot of money than they should be made aware of it.

One former member of council said that councillors definitely have the right to ask questions. “Imagine if the president of Niagara College went on medical leave and an acting president fired four senior managers his or her first morning on the job without telling the president or the board of the college? I think that board would be asking some pointed questions.”

Niagara Falls councillor Bob Gale said he too finds it disturbing the way the terminations were handled. “To say it’s not political, it’s obviously political,” said Gale. He added the police board caught a lot of flak for parting ways with the former chief: “but at least we made the severance public. Now all of a sudden severances can’t be made public? These terminations are cloaked in secrecy and we were supposed to be the open, transparent and accountable council.”

Gale said there is no way that any of the mayors on council would have terminated their staff during the holiday season. “What happened to being compassionate?”

 

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    By Kevin Vallier Time To Read: 3 min