OP-ED: Deflection, deception, and bullying

Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn listens to fellow Audit Committee members on Tuesday, November 14. VOICE PHOTO


Special to the VOICE

The Mayor of Pelham and Pelham Town Council have expended considerable effort over the past year to silence those who question the actions of Council. I present this submission to the Voice to provide insight into the underhanded actions by this Mayor and Council with respect to my role as the directly-elected member of Niagara Regional Council, as well as the Town’s representative at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).

In January 2017, the Mayor and I met over lunch. He informed me that his Council was calling for my immediate resignation from the NPCA. This was just the latest in a series of slights shown to me during the decade-plus that I have dealt with this Council—though this demand sunk to a new low.

Councillor Brian Baty. FILE PHOTO

For the sake of brevity, I won’t catalogue the list, the point being that it symbolically speaks volumes about the poor relationship between this Council and myself.

In fact, news that Council wanted to dump me from the NPCA came to me via a fellow parishioner at church. After I returned from a short vacation last winter, this resident informed me that Council had gone into closed session, out of public view, to discuss my work at the NPCA.

I was shocked that a resident at large would know the details of an in camera meeting, and so began to investigate.

It turned out that the Mayor and Council went into closed session to discuss “personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees.” In this meeting, they hatched a plan (to be developed by staff) to invite nominations from residents who had a background in conservation to be appointed to NPCA.

The Mayor and Council went into closed session to tar and feather me without any opportunity for me to defend myself. I would expect better treatment from a third-world kangaroo court. When this plan came to a vote in a subsequent public council meeting, the motion passed unanimously without debate.

The newspaper accounts of this motion deflected and deceived the public on the true motivation of the Mayor and Council. The Mayor extolled the virtues of residents with conservation knowledge and experience. He and Council neglected to note that I hold a BSc in Biology; that I taught science from an ecological and environmental perspective; that I had a third teachable qualification from McArthur College at Queens University in Outdoor Education; that I had a master’s degree in Curriculum, Organizational Development and Leadership; that I served on the Source Water Protection Committee since its inception, and that I served for several years as a Niagara Escarpment Commissioner.

In addition, there was no recognition of my role as Chair of the Governance and Accountability task force at NPCA to establish a citizen advisory committee for NPCA to include stakeholders with specific expertise (one of the first such advisory committees in the entire province.)

Yet, their motion, if enacted, would have blackballed me from any further consideration as the NPCA board member for Pelham.

Fast-forward to last July.

After repeatedly hearing concerns from several Pelham residents, I recommended to Council that it undertake an independent, third-party audit of its East Fonthill development deals to clear the air. After I was attacked by Council, I made reference to their January attempt to remove me from the NPCA board. I was asked by Acting Mayor Peter Papp to explain where I got this information. I indicated that it was through the Office of the Ombudsman of the Province of Ontario, through which I had filed a complaint after learning of Council’s January action.

Fast-forward again to November 2017, when I was asked by the Mayor to meet with him and Councillor Papp to discuss “clarification of an NPCA issue.” When I arrived, I was surprised to find Town Clerk Nancy Bozzato present at what I thought was to be a casual meeting. The Mayor demanded to know who from Council told me about the closed-door meeting in January. The Clerk stated, “Your words were a verbatim account of what was said in closed session.”

I replied that I had already told the Mayor that a resident at large had informed me about the matter at church. I simply used deductive reasoning from my many years as an educator and principal to construct the series of events that were aimed at denying me any future participation with the NPCA.

This attempt was a stab in the back by this Mayor and Council. It wounded me in the part of my being where I value integrity, ethics, honesty and respect. The wound has given rise to contempt, anger, disgust and a loss of all respect for this Mayor and every member of Council. A reconsideration of that motion, a repeal of that motion and a public apology, would serve to heal some of the damage done. So might reflection on the unprofessional manner with which I was treated in July.

Turn now to the allegations of bullying made by the Mayor, the “witch hunt” he claims that’s behind the Region’s scrutiny of Pelham’s finances. What complete nonsense.

The Mayor has repeatedly attempted to portray his criticisms of the NPCA as giving rise to the Regional Audit Committee’s concern about the state of Pelham’s financial health. In fact, it was the residents of Pelham who sounded the alarm, who contacted me and other Regional Councillors to request urgent assistance with a Town Council in over its financial head.

I respectfully ask this Mayor and Council to stop the deflection, deception and false claims of bullying, and instead rally to the community’s call for genuine openness, transparency and trust. 

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