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Region CAO allegedly received confidential info during recruitment

However, key source requests corrections of certain comments

BY VOICE STAFF

A report in the St. Catharines Standard last week alleged that Niagara Region CAO Carmen D’Angelo received confidential information about other candidates for the position he had applied for during the hiring process in autumn 2016.

According to the article, D’Angelo was provided with a briefing memo containing information about other candidates for the position. Such data, including the identities of applicants, is typically kept confidential during a hiring process.

The memo was reportedly written by Rob D’Amboise, Regional Chair Alan Caslin’s policy director. The newspaper did not state who allegedly leaked the memo to D’Angelo, nor how it obtained the email to D’Angelo containing it.

After the April 2016 departure of the Region’s previous CAO, Harry Schlange, Regional Council formed a committee to find his replacement. Its members were Councillors Tony Quirk, Bob Gale, Sandra Easton, Frank Campion, and Chair Alan Caslin. At the time, D’Angelo was the CAO of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, where both Quirk and Campion were and continue to be board members.

The recruiting company the Phelps Group was contracted to operate the interviewing process.

Phelps’ Jayson Phelps told the Standard that if D’Amboise “got that kind of information, it probably means Caslin shared something. We were not aware of the memo.”

However, public records of the recruitment committee show that D’Amboise attended meetings at least until June 2016.

According to Councillor Tony Quirk, D’Amboise was present in the process up until interviews began.

“The information that Jayson Phelps indicates that Caslin must have given to Rob was, in fact, directly emailed to Rob by Jayson Phelps,” said Quirk.

On social media, Quirk critiqued the Standard’s story, posting that it implied that the memo was “leaked to [D’Angelo] by the Chair’s office,” and that D’Amboise improperly had access to the information. “No proof given” of the former, wrote Quirk, who also asserted that the latter was false.

Quirk said that some candidates for the CAO position became aware of each other during the interview process inadvertently in Regional hallways.

“Nothing about the process was tainted, with the exception of unfortunate timing on the part of Phelps during the interview stage allowed some of the candidates to meet face to face during the process,” said Quirk.

In a statement on Friday, Chair Alan Caslin echoed Quirk’s position, saying, “at numerous steps of the [recruitment] process, Mr. Phelps and the recruitment firm corresponded directly by email with my office, including providing documents that were circulated to the Committee.”

“As such, I anticipate that the recruitment firm will correct their incorrect statements to the St. Catharines Standard,” said Caslin.

On Monday, Caslin sent an email, which has been obtained by the Voice, to all of Regional Council. The email contained a copy of another email, one sent by Jayson Phelps to a Regional staffer, which asserted that the Phelps Group requested that the Standard correct certain of his statements.

Phelps asserted that it was the Standard reporter, not he, who said that the Region’s HR department was not involved in the recruitment process.

Quoting from his email to the Standard, Phelps wrote, “For your information, HR was involved in the procurement of Phelps Group for the assignment and the initial logistics of our work.  As I indicated in our discussion, the Regional Clerk was in attendance throughout the Selection Process to ensure the process followed Regional policy.

Phelps added, “At no point did we have any discussion with the reporter about Mr. D’Amboise or his involvement in the process.”

Caslin said that in the interest of transparency, he will request “an independent HR inquiry of the entire hiring process be undertaken. I discussed this request with our Human Resources Department on Friday.”

The Director of Human Resources will be bringing forward options to Regional Council on Thursday, April 12 for your consideration.”

The Standard’s report raised other concerns, broadly suggesting that the competition was rigged in D’Angelo’s favour.

Regional Commissioner Jason Burgess, who will soon leave the Region, reportedly told some Regional Staff members in September 2016 that he was pulling his application for CAO because D’Angelo had been selected, even though final interviews had not taken place.

When interviewed by the Standard, Burgess said that he had only been talking about rumours at the time.

“Perhaps I was more forceful with my opinion,” Burgess said, who added that he had withdrawn from consideration for “personal reasons.”

In the meeting at which D’Angelo was confirmed, the consultant Jayson Phelps was not present to answer questions from Regional Councillors who had not been on the recruitment committee.

D’Angelo was reportedly not recruited by Phelps, becoming a candidate later in the process. The NPCA’s annual budget at the time was some $10 million dollars. The Region’s yearly budget is over $1 billion.

D’Angelo’s tenure at the NPCA resulted in controversy. He was first appointed to the board in 2007 as a representative from Hamilton, before taking a leave of absence in 2014, during which his consulting firm received an un-tendered $41,000 contract to complete human resources work at the Association. In 2014, he was hired as the NPCA’s CAO.

In 2015, his consulting firm received a $25,000 un-tendered contract from the Niagara Regional Police Services board.

Environmental activist and NPCA critic Ed Smith later alleged that D’Angelo’s police services board contract had been improperly swapped for a contract that the NPCA awarded to a third-party, and that D’Angelo’s firm was not licensed to work in Ontario at the time.

Smith’s complaints originated around the time that D’Angelo was being considered for the Regional CAO position.

D’Angelo—and the NPCA—subsequently sued Smith for defamation. Although the judge ruled that Smith’s allegations were not accurate—saying that Smith’s assertion about D’Angelo’s company was based on “an inaccurate listing in an on-line business directory,” and, “obviously, these two contracts were not corruptly swapped”— he dismissed the lawsuits, rebuking the NPCA for suing a member of the public, and saying that Smith’s factual errors had not been deliberate.

As it happened, Ed Smith and Regional Councillor Brian Heit were in contact during the CAO’s hiring process.

In emails between them, provided by Smith in his affidavit during the lawsuit, Smith writes to Heit, “What if you were to find out that [D’Angelo] is the subject of a police investigation…Is that enough for you guys to make a reasonable case to at least defer [the hiring decision]?”

Heit circulated the information he received from Smith to 10 other Regional Councillors, including Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn. Also involved in the email discussions about D’Angelo and Smith’s allegations against him was Ted Mouradian, a consultant in St. Catharines later hired by Pelham to facilitate its “Evening with the Experts,” held last summer in an attempt to address scrutiny of the Town’s East Fonthill financial practices.

The emails depict some Regional councillors planning to stall D’Angelo’s appointment by missing a vote so that quorum could not be achieved.

“[This] shows [Councillor Heit] was actively trying to stop the appointment of Carmen with his ‘Trusted Ten,’’ said Quirk, “and using Ed Smith’s document to justify a delay.”

“The reason we didn’t need to stop the meeting was because we knew the information was not true.”

Smith declined repeated requests to comment for this story, saying, “this ride is just beginning.”

In a follow-up to its initial article, the Standard quoted St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik calling for a probe into D’Angelo’s hiring.

“We need to have an investigation by someone who is totally independent, that is independent of the Regional Chair’s office, and that is independent of staff and the CAO,” Sendzik reportedly asserted.

The Voice requested reaction to Sendzik’s call from all of Regional Council and Chair Caslin. An investigation was endorsed by some Regional Councillors and rejected by others.

“What is there to investigate?” said Quirk. “Unless the Standard offers any proof, there is nothing and no method to perform an investigation. All we know is that the paper claims it has a memo authored by Rob D’Amboise, and that somehow D’Angelo got the memo. There is nothing to investigate regarding Rob’s involvement, as he was allowed to be there. Phelps sent him digital versions of the long list and other pertinent information. [D’Amboise] signed the same non-disclosure agreement we all did—staff and councillors on the committee…. The paper says, ‘it is unclear who gave the document to D’Angelo.’ This means they know it wasn’t Rob or they would say so.”

Quirk also pushed back against any suggestion that D’Angelo having alleged access to the shortlist was an advantage.

“I don’t know what advantage sending the short list to Carmen would be except to prove he was on the short list. If the fix was in, what would it matter who the other candidates were?  If the fix wasn’t in, what advantage is there in knowing who the other candidates are?  Every candidate got a copy of the questions ahead of time in the first interview and every candidate was given the task they had to prepare for the second interview,” said Quirk. “Whoever sent it—if it was sent—wasn’t doing Carmen any favours.”

Councillor Bob Gale, another member of the committee that selected D’Angelo, said that, “I know from being involved in the CAO selection process that it was fair and the integrity of it was never compromised.”

“I too have questions as to some of the items in the article but in no way did it discredit our process, and Carmen D’Angelo was the best candidate.”

Grimsby Mayor Bob Bentley said, “If any of the assertions in the recent press reports are accurate then I would definitely support an investigation into the hiring process. There were a number of questions and concerns raised by council members, including short list of candidates that went unanswered due to ‘confidentiality.’ If that process as approved by council was not structured properly or influenced or compromised by anyone, including the Regional Chair’s office and staff, we need to know why. If confidential information about candidates was leaked prior to formal decisions being made, that suggests changes need to be made. I would think it appropriate for council at the very least to be briefed by the consultant hired to oversee the process as well.”

Councillors Selina Volpatti, Sandy Annunziata, and Bart Maves said that they have full confidence in D’Angelo.

“CAO D’Angelo’s employment was approved unanimously by the hiring committee, and democratically approved by Niagara Region Council,” said Volpatti. “The report in our local newspaper of irregularities in the process are negated by the lack of any real evidence, and by a misunderstanding of the role of staff in the hiring process.”

Annunziata criticized the journalism, saying, “I take the headline and the tone of the Standard article to suggest ‘leaked memos’ did occur and it is their opinion the public should be outraged over that prospect? But those same reporters actually encourage that behaviour, and in the past have publicly stated they have contacts at Regional government that have been leaking information to them. I find it incredible that Standard reporters would rise to that level of hypocrisy—as beneficiary, by first encouraging the practice of leaking memos and privileged documents, and then as judge and jury, by screaming foul and indicting the behaviour in their headlines and in their articles.”

While Pelham’s Regional Councillor Brian Baty agreed with Sendzik that an investigation into D’Angelo’s hiring process is needed, like Annunziata he said that an investigation ought also to include the source of the Standard’s information, “as well as the intentions or motivation of these individuals.”

Of the CAO’s hiring process, Baty said that he found it strange that the Region’s human resources staff were not “directly involved in the hiring process and even stranger that the consultant was not present at the time the matter was deliberated at Regional Council.”

Nevertheless, Baty said that he didn’t question the hiring committee’s integrity, and added, “conjecture about potential candidates and their probability of appointment is commonplace in any hiring process, much like the speculation that centres around potential winners in a horse race.”

“It is my hope that these matters can be resolved before the election,” concluded Baty. “But, then again, maybe [the Standard] article is the first salvo in the race for Regional Chair.”

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