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The Globe and Mail

Former Niagara parks executive defends expenses

Joel Noden left his $130,000-a-year job at the Niagara Parks Commission on Nov. 9 2010 amid questions about an untendered publishing contract.

The Niagara Parks Commission executive who spent more than $400,000 on travel and entertainment is defending his expenses and disputing what he calls the "inference that my actions were improper and unauthorized."

Joel Noden, who left the Ontario government agency two weeks ago, wrote to The Globe and Mail to say reports on his corporate credit card use and his signing of an untendered publishing contract left an "incorrect impression" about his Nov. 9 departure from the commission, which manages Canada's busiest tourist attraction.

"I was dismissed without any legal cause," wrote Mr. Noden, who earned $130,000 a year as senior manager in charge of generating revenue for the agency. "… I was simply advised that my services were no longer required since the Commission wished to proceed in new directions."

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He added: "The facts will show that I did no wrong, and always acted in the best interests of the NPC."

At the time of Mr. Noden's departure, The Globe reported he had earlier this year signed an untendered contract with a publisher to produce a magazine promoting Niagara on behalf of a new provincially funded regional tourism board he had co-chaired. In his letter, Mr. Noden wrote that the contract was a board decision, not a personal one, made without a tender "due to time constraints and was approved in advance by the Ministry of Tourism."

Subsequent Globe articles, based on MasterCard statements and expense sheets obtained via a freedom of information request, showed Mr. Noden made $395,751 in credit purchases and claimed another $23,950 in out-of-pocket costs between 2006 and 2009.

The Globe also requested detailed receipts to explain the credit card purchases but has yet to receive them.

In his letter, Mr. Noden suggests expenses mentioned in the articles were misconstrued. A $1,800 charge, listed as "Oxford Pub/Nightclub" on a MasterCard bill, was for Mr. Noden, a parks manager and its executive chef to attend a trade show, he wrote.

Oxford Publishing is an American company that publishes Nightclub & Bar Magazine and produces trade shows for the hospitality industry.

A $199 liquor store purchase was for "four bottles of Niagara icewine … bought for presentation to Asian dignitaries as gifts," while a $10,729 hotel stay in London, England, "was the cost for nine people in seven rooms for two nights at the Park Lane Hotel during a sales mission."

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Mr. Noden, who has declined interview requests since his departure, also declined to elaborate on his letter Monday, replying in an e-mail, "I will not be responding to any media or giving any interviews in addition to my letter to the Editor sent yesterday." Calls to his home have met with a full voicemail.

"The point is that charges made to my corporate credit card, whether they related to my own expenses or the expenses of others were all made and approved within existing NPC guidelines and were never criticized in subsequent audits," Mr. Noden wrote in the letter.

When news of his expenses emerged last week, it was initially unclear who had approved them. The commission's written policies grant approval authority for senior executive expenses to the agency's general manager. But the current general manager, John Kernahan, told The Globe that authority was long ago delegated to the corporate services manager, a position equal to Mr. Noden's in the corporate hierarchy.

In his letter, Mr. Noden wrote that "the NPC Director of Corporate Services, in accordance with NPC policy at that time, approved my expense claims."

The corporate services manager, however, has insisted only Mr. Kernahan had authority to approve expenses.

Fay Booker, chairwoman of the politically appointed board that governs the 300-employee parks commission, said she was surprised to hear that Mr. Kernahan said Mr. Noden's expenses hadn't crossed his desk "in years."

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Mr. Noden wrote that "rather than trying to distance herself from any responsibility, surely [Ms. Booker]should be defending proper expenses incurred by her senior staff that has been approved through proper channels."

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