Bruce Timms maintains he’s still a board memberby Allan Benner , Grant LaFleche The St. Catharines Standard
Bruce Timms believes the past Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board members are still in charge, despite Niagara Region council's decision last week to appoint 12 people to immediately replace them.
"We're waiting for a legal opinion," said Timms, a former St. Catharines regional councillor and NPCA board member. "My understanding of the (Conservation Authorities) Act is that I can be replaced and I have been replaced by Coun. Brian Heit, but it says very clearly that my term stops and his term starts immediately before the next meeting of the board."
Although the board was to meet this week, that session was abruptly cancelled. The next board meeting is now NPCA's annual general meeting Jan. 17.
"It seems to me, that the simple interpretation of the act is, I still carry the responsibilities of a board member until then," Timms said.
Several of the former NPCA board members replaced by regional council — including board chair Sandy Annunziata (Fort Erie), Timms and Grimsby's Tony Quirk — were defeated in the October election and no longer represent the Region.
Although some councillors, including Heit, believe the regional representatives on the NPCA board should have left the agency when their council terms ended on Nov. 30, the board continued to make decisions for the conservation authority.
The board held special meetings behind closed doors on Nov. 28 and Dec. 3 that resulted in the firing of CAO Mark Brickell.
"We're currently technically still board members, but I have not participated in any decisions following the special meeting on Monday, (Dec. 3)," Timms said, referring to the in-camera session held that day to discuss a personnel issue.
Brickell was fired three days later, the same day regional council appointed interim board members.
That same day NPCA clerk Lisa McManus was appointed its interim CAO.
Timms said the out-going board has "not made any governing decisions following the appointment of the acting CAO, but it still does not relieve me of my responsibilities, including confidentiality."
"My responsibilities under the conservation act remain in place until immediately before the next board meeting," Timms said.
Heit called it "ludicrous" to suggest that the former board remains in power.
"A new group of people have now taken over," he said. "They dragged us through the mud long enough, now let's move forward."
Lawyer Stephen Moreau, who is representing the former CAO, also doubted the former board's authority.
He said Brickell was fired almost an hour after regional council voted to replace Niagara's NPCA board members and contends they had no authority to fire anyone.
Regional Chair Jim Bradley is hoping a legal opinion will clarify the leadership issue.
"We will as a council receive some legal advice from our staff to give us an opinion on the constitution of that board, and it'll be very helpful to us right now," he said. "We thought this had been solved from, our point of view, at the last council meeting, however, we've heard a lot of things since then."
Bradley said council is also awaiting a legal opinion regarding Hamilton city council's decision to appoint four members to the NPCA board, rather than two.
In addition to board representation, there are also questions about who is managing the day-to-day operations of the organization.
McManus is on leave, and questions to NPCA as to who is acting in her place went unanswered Wednesday.
The Standard asked McManus and NPCA spokesman Michael Reles if the now-ousted Niagara board members were still making staffing and financial decisions for NPCA.
Those questions went unanswered.
In an email, Timms said he met with Heit to share his thoughts on NPCA, but said: "I will be pleased to pass on my responsibilities as soon as possible under the (Conservation Authorities) Act."
Despite Timms' assurances regarding the organization's current leadership, confusion remained among other former board members contacted Wednesday.
"The situation is not clear," said former Pelham councillor Brian Baty, who also led NPCA's charitable foundation. "I've received no communication in regard to this matter."
He said the uncertainly led him to also cancel an upcoming NPCA foundation meeting, although it is supposed to be an arm's-length organization.
"There's a lack of clarity on many fronts," he said, adding there has also been a lack of communication on the issue.
Former West Lincoln mayor Doug Joyner also doubts he has any lingering authority on the board.
"As far as I'm concerned, we're former members," he said, adding he has had no contact with NPCA representatives since the Dec. 3 meeting.
Joyner said the Ministry of Environment "needs to take leadership on this."
Meanwhile, Annunziata attacked local political leaders and the media on Twitter, claiming they undermined Niagara's majority control of NPCA.
Annunziata has insisted a 1994 provincial government directive, which gave Niagara 12 members of the board, was "the law." That directive would have seen him preside over a series of board member selection meetings, although it was unclear how much sway he would have had over the process.
However, the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks said that directive was rendered invalid in 1998 when the act was amended and, in a letter to the Region, said it had no legislative value.
Annunziata did not answer a question to put him on Twitter, about whether he is continuing to act as the chair of the board.