Hamilton

Niagara Region's CAO hiring was 'inside job', provincial ombudsman rules in report

The official provincial watchdog has ruled the hiring of former-Chief Administrative Officer for Niagara Region was an "inside job," and has offered 16 recommendations to improve the municipality's hiring practices. 

Carmen D’Angelo was provided with confidential documents throughout the hiring process

The hiring of Niagara Region CAO Carmen D'Angelo was investigated by the Ontario ombudsman after over 100 complaints were filed. (Niagara Region)

The official provincial watchdog has ruled the hiring of a former-Chief Administrative Officer for Niagara Region was an "inside job," and has offered 16 recommendations to improve the municipality's hiring practices. 

"The Regional Municipality of Niagara's 2016 CAO hiring process was an inside job, tainted by the improper disclosure of confidential information to a candidate," Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé wrote in his report on the matter, released publicly Friday. 

Dubé said that candidate, Carmen D'Angelo, "was ultimately successful and became the region's most senior administrator." He has since left Niagara Region and, according to the St. Catharines Standard, is suing his former employer.

The provincial ombudsman announced the investigation in August of 2018, after his office received 113 complaints about the hiring of D'Angelo and the way the region responded to concerns that were raised. In total, 171 complaints were received.

'Confidential' documents leaked

Dubé's investigation found D'Angelo was provided with "confidential documents" before and during the 2016 hiring process, which were leaked by insiders in the former Regional Chair's office — which "played a central role in the hiring process" —despite not being part of the official recruitment committee. 

That included "a report on the makeup of the recruitment committee, the names and biographies of potential candidates, and questions and suggested answers for his interviews," according to Dubé's report. 

According to the ombudsman's report, Niagara Region first appointed its own municipal ombudsman and external governance auditors after the St. Catharines Standard published a series of articles revealing that confidential documents had been leaked to D'Angelo.

The municipal ombudsman concluded in its investigation that confidential information was not leaked to D'Angelo — the provincial ombudsman was then asked by the regional council to further investigate.

Multi-layered investigation

Provincial ombudsman investigators conducted a total of 46 interviews and also reviewed thousands of digital documents, assisted by an auditing firm with expertise in computer forensics.

Those digital documents included some from the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), where D'Angelo worked prior to Niagara Region, and showed that he "envisioned the replacement" of the municipality's previous CAO as far back as December 2015.

The ombudsman's office also investigated allegations that the documents leaked to D'Angelo might have been tampered with or "planted," but investigators found no such evidence to corroborate those allegations. 

"Mr. D'Angelo was provided with substantive content to be used in his application materials," Dubé said, "by insiders who had access to information not available to the general public or to other candidates."

Also under investigation was D'Angelo's contract extension of three more years in 2017, which occurred after he had spent less than a year on the job. The contract was extended by the then-Chair without council's knowledge.

Recommendations 'unanimously' accepted

The ombudsman's 16 recommendations to "ensure the municipality preserves the integrity" of its hiring processes include:

  • An employee code of conduct or ethics that provides for the protection of confidential information
  • A bylaw setting the parameters of the relationship between council and the CAO
  • A policy setting out the process for hiring a CAO
  • Clear terms of reference for municipal ombudsman investigations

Niagara's regional council unanimously accepted all of the ombudsman's recommendations. 

Dubé stated when he first announced the investigation that it would take time and the results would not be released until after the Niagara municipal elections in October of 2018, in order to remain impartial. 

The full report was made public Friday and can be read here.

About the Author

Justin Mowat

Reporter/Editor

Justin Mowat is a journalist and a filmmaker. Reach him at: justin.mowat@cbc.ca

with files from Dan Taekema