Hamilton board member says he'll withdraw after sharing Facebook post about Islamic law
Board needs to build trust that what 'we say is what we're going to do,' says Hamilton rep Brad Clark
James Kaspersetz, one of Hamilton's two citizen appointees, says he'll withdraw his name to serve on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board again after being censured for sharing a Facebook post saying Islamic law is being "adapted" in the United States.
Kaspersetz is at the end of his current term. He's applied to serve again, he said, but plans to withdraw his name "in the next couple of days."
"I have to own it," he said. "It was a mistake. We're trying to move the board forward and I think this is something that will continually come up. We have to put an end to it."
The comments came outside a court-ordered NPCA board meeting at Ball's Falls Monday. Twelve new Niagara appointees attended, as well as two Haldimand appointees and a mix of new and old Hamilton members.
Censuring Kaspersetz was one of the first orders of business. The post doesn't reflect Hamilton or the board, said Brad Clark, a Stoney Creek councillor and new board member. "We need to know it's not acceptable."
A censure doesn't unseat Kaspersetz, he said, but "it acknowledges in public that he's been rebuked."
Kaspersetz issue aside, the meeting happened under odd circumstances. After years of public criticism and scandals involving the previous board, a judge ordered the meeting to happen.
Headlines over the years have included, for example, the NPCA suing concerned citizen Ed Smith for libel after Smith compiled a report criticizing the authority. Niagara residents have also protested the authority's approach to the Thundering Waters development near Niagara Falls. The authority has even seen three CAOs in recent months — Mark Brickell, and interim CAOs Lisa McManus and David Barrick.
Barrick, the current interim CAO, is a former Niagara regional councillor. His hiring was one of many issues flagged in a 2018 report from Ontario's auditor general, which identified "significant operational issues." Other criticisms included the NPCA often not following its own procurement rules, and board members intervening in day-to-day operations.
The report included 18 recommendations. The NPCA says it's already implementing many of them.
Some confusion even remains around the makeup of the board itself. For years, Niagara had 12 NPCA members, Hamilton two and Haldimand one. McManus said late last year that Niagara should have five members, Hamilton four and Haldimand two. Clark says the province confirmed this when he visited Queen's Park.
A Welland judge recently confirmed Niagara's 12 new board members to prevent previous board members from making decisions. Hamilton still hasn't appointed its citizen members.
Smith is now part of A Better Niagara, the citizen group that filed the court application. He said he's "very optimistic" the culture of the NPCA will change now.
"I believe (the new members) come motivated by the right things," he said. "The last election in Niagara was a change election. They understand what the people want to see, which is good governing, and I think they're going to bring that to the NPCA."
As for Kaspersetz's Facebook post, "I won't know if it was handled right until I see if James Kaspersetz is reappointed."
The board directed staff to freeze any hirings, firings or promotions without board approval. It's also striking a governance committee to look at authority roles and responsibilities.
At the end of the meeting, the board discussed changing the time of the annual general meeting on Jan. 16 because it conflicted with the schedule of some Niagara politicians. This is an example, Clark said, of what needs to change.
"If the meeting's already been advertised and promoted on the website, it really starts to beg questions why we would be changing that. It creates this perception that something nefarious is going on," he said.
"We have to start imbibing some trust to the broader community that what we say is what we're going to do."