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The Globe and Mail

Niagara Parks Commission deputy steps down

The Niagara Parks Commission's colourful vice-chairman has been demoted in the first step of the body's long-awaited overhaul.

Mr. Katzman, 80, will step down Friday as second-in-command of the commission's board, a position he held for most of his 39 years as a member. He will continue as a regular commissioner until his term expires in October of 2011 but said he won't seek reappointment.

"I just thought that it was the right thing to do," Mr. Katzman said in an interview, adding he stepped down voluntarily. "No pressure at all," he said.

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Revelations of Mr. Katzman's personal links to parks contractors were among concerns raised last month by a Niagara Falls watchdog group, Preserve Our Parks, in a letter to Tourism Minister Michael Chan.

His drop in rank comes two months after the Liberal government installed a new chairwoman to steer the 11-member board out of controversy.

Fay Booker, a corporate governance expert, came in with a mandate to pull the commission's practices into line with modern standards after it granted an untendered lease to the famed Maid of the Mist tour boat operation, prompting a public outcry and months of fallout.

Queen's Park vetoed the lease and ordered a bidding process, and the former parks chairman resigned.

Meanwhile, subsequent provincial audits of the commission's business practices and governance, obtained by the Globe and Mail, found that secrecy, questionable decision-making and an "old boys' club" image plagued the 125-year-old agency.

Despite Niagara's status as Canada's busiest park, the commission has lost money for the past several years, prompting greater scrutiny of its governance and management.

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