The Niagara Region is in need of a good plumber.
The OPP, Auditor General, Ontario Ombudsman and the Integrity Commissioner have all commented to one extent or another about the constant leaks of confidential information coming out of the Region. Several confidential documents have found their way to the public and local media along with numerous confidential conversations that have taken place behind closed doors which were part of in-camera meetings. This, despite every councillor having signed a confidentiality agreement after being elected.
Most recently, Regional Councillor Bob Gale was clearly frustrated at yesterday’s special meeting dealing with the hiring process of the Region’s CAO, as he asked: “Why do we go in-camera at all if we are just going to leak everything?”
St. Catharines representative Bruce Timms pointed out that not only is confidential information being constantly leaked throughout this council’s term but said the frustrating part is that only half of the story gets leaked and reported on. “The media doesn’t have to, or can’t, report the other half because it’s still confidential,” he said. “Some councillors are taking the position that leaking confidential information is a means to an end and I guess they think it’s okay for them to break the rules.”
Niagara Independent contributor Mark Towhey, who served as Chief of Staff to former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, said that in his time at Toronto City Hall leaks were very rare. “I was impressed with the councillors that would fight like cats and dogs behind closed doors but would remain professional and keep things confidential.”
Towhey also pointed out that the rare time that there was a leak there was an immediate call for an investigation at the next council meeting. “I would expect the councillors who aren’t leaking information would demand change and action to protect their reputation.” Towhey also pointed out that the City Clerk and Solicitor often read councillors the riot act with regards to adhering to confidentiality rules.
In June, Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn was found guilty by the Integrity Commissioner’s office for breaching the Code of Conduct by releasing confidential information. No discipline was recommended.
Regional Councillor Selina Volpatti said it’s “very frustrating” to see so much confidential information leaked to the media which only serves to compromise the work of the Region and the decision making process. The other issue Councillor Volpatti pointed out is that “it’s impossible to speak freely” in an in-camera meeting when your comments that should remain private are in the next day’s newspaper. Volpatti is particularly frustrated with the leaking of information with regards to the CAO hiring process issue. “What offends me the most is how they destroy a person in public. This is a man (CAO Carmen D’Angelo) with a family. They are destroying a person for a political motive,” said Volpatti.
Regional Councillor Brian Baty of Pelham, said he too is disappointed and like many of his colleagues is frustrated that after information is leaked only half the story appears in the media. “We need to deal with issues openly, with transparency and honesty but also with integrity,” said Baty.
Despite constant leaks of confidential information coming out of in-camera meetings, St. Catharines Regional Councillor Tim Rigby said he will continue to say what he wants to say behind closed doors. Rigby added that in his many years of experience as a councillor the issue of confidential information being leaked has been worse this term than ever before. “Some very intentional leaking has been going on and there’s a lack of respect for one another,” said Rigby. He also pointed out that there are other people in addition to councillors in in-camera meetings.
There is a reason Boards and Councils go in-camera and not being able to speak freely because someone privy to that information makes it public the minute the meeting is over jeopardizes public trust and makes it very difficult to conduct sensitive business items. As Towhey says, “if you continue to breach confidentiality of in-camera sessions, then don’t have in-camera sessions.”
“You take it seriously or not at all,” said Towhey.