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Zalepa meets with NPCA board Monday

Regional councillor Gary Zalepa assured a full house at Navy Hall New Year's Day that he was looking forward to getting on with addressing good governance.
Regional councillor Gary Zalepa assured a full house at Navy Hall New Year's Day that he was looking forward to getting on with addressing good governance. Both the region and the NPCA, of which he is a board member, were seen to have lost public confidence leading up to the fall municipal election. Photo by Lauren O'Malley

It’s official: The new board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, including Niagara-on-the-Lake representative Gary Zalepa, will meet for the first time Monday to discuss the first steps in getting the organization back on track.

The governance of the authority was characterized as “an intolerable” situation,” which could not remain in its current state of chaos, by Justice J. Ramsey in his Superior Court decision released late last month. The decision confirmed the 12 regional councillors as board members from Dec. 6, when they were appointed by regional council.

The NPCA has been in turmoil since the outgoing chair Sandy Annuziata from Fort Erie, who was not re-elected in October, refused to step down. Instead he said the former board would remain intact to determine the make-up of the new  board. The court decision ruled out his intention.

There was some doubt about whether the NPCA would agree to the special meeting on Jan. 7 meeting, but it has been confirmed, has been announced on the organization’s website and will be held at Ball’s Falls Monday afternoon.

Zalepa has received his agenda, he said, which includes a discussion about governance.

A chair and vice-chair are expected to be chosen. He also anticipates a discussion about the number of representatives to be appointed from the city of Hamilton and from Haldimand County, the two other municipalities which make up the authority with the Region of Niagara — an issue not settled by the court decision.

“It’s a conversation that has to happen, to find an agreeable governance make-up. There is a willingness on all sides to make it happen — I think that’s what everybody wants.”

Expected in a closed door session is a discussion with NPCA human resources people about staffing issues, said Zalepa, including information from the NPCA lawyer with respect to staff “and any legal issues that are out there.”

A Dec. 14 release from the NCPA updating the leadership rollercoaster of the organization explained Lisa MacManus, announced Dec. 6 as interim CAO by the former board (the day regional council appointed the new board), had resigned. She had been replacing former CAO Mark Brickell. David Barrick, who had been an NPCA employee up until last November, was named interim CAO to “support the 2019 board of directors in their search of a new CAO,” the NPCA release says.

Zalepa isn't convinced that the tasks set out for the interim board can be accomplished in three months, the term stipulated by regional council. “I’m seeing this as taking three to six months to get this interim board structured and get some direction going, some stability with staff and support staff and to look at the auditor general’s report," said Zalepa. The report, released last summer, detailed several significant issues with the governance of the conservation authority.

The current Niagara board members were appointed to provide leadership to the conservation agency while determining a process for each municipality to recruit citizens with certain skill sets to serve as NPCA representatives instead of politicians, as recommended by the auditor general's report.

But if necessary regional council can extend the term, said Zalepa, to allow the board “to get the work done and hand off the authority in good shape to the new board.”

Leading up to the election, it was clear people had lost confidence in the NPCA, he said. “The organization had a low water mark; it’s passed that and is moving forward. In the perception of the public it had lost accountability. We hope to restore public faith in the authority and its ability to deal with the issues it’s supposed to be dealing with. It got off-track some how, and the new board is all about bringing it back and moving in the right direction.”

Acknowledging the public is anxious to hear the plans of the new board, including what it will do about staff, Zalepa said he’s not sure how soon that information will become available. It depends on the advice provided by legal counsel, he said.

“I’m not sure we’ll be there on Monday, but as soon as anything can be said we’ll say it. Once we make a decision, we’ll make it public right away. I’m committed to that.”1