Councillor hopeful meeting will repair relationship with council
One of the councillors who refused to co-operate with an investigation by Ontario’s ombudsman is willing to hear what Andre Marin has to say when he comes to town Dec. 11.
Ward 7 Coun. Dave Kilgour says he’ll go to the meeting and see what sort of tone Marin strikes when he delivers his talk.
“I’ll listen to what he has to say, and that will form the basis for any questions I might have,” Kilgour said Sept. 14. “My questions, and I bet everybody else’s questions, too, will be determined by the way he makes his presentation.”
Marin is coming to Sudbury in the wake of a report he released last month that cleared city councillors of any wrongdoing, but chastised them as the least co-operative council he’s ever encountered. Marin investigated allegations that councillors met improperly four times behind closed doors in late 2011 to discuss the future of Auditor General Brian Bigger.
He ruled that all the meetings were properly held, but council’s refusal to co-operate with his investigators prompted strong criticism. City Solicitor Jamie Canapini told councillors they had the option to insist a member of the city’s legal team be present during the interview.
When the ombudsman’s investigators told them that was against the rules, only Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume and Ward 9 Coun. Doug Craig agreed to proceed without a lawyer.
Mayor Marianne Matichuk and City Clerk Caroline Hallsworth co-operated, but had their own lawyers present. Unbeknownst to councillors at the time, the city would have paid for a private lawyer for each of them if they chose to hire one.
That’s because of a bylaw passed by the former Region of Sudbury in 1991 that gave councillors the option of having a lawyer paid for by the city present when the city’s legal team wasn’t able to represent them.
In the wake of the report, Marin offered to come to council to clear the air, an offer Matichuk formally accepted this week.
“I accepted the Ombudsman’s invitation to address council so we will have a chance to learn more about the processes of his office,” said Matichuk in a release Sept. 14. “This will be an excellent opportunity for us to ask questions of one another.”
Kilgour said he and other councillors were annoyed that, in his report, Marin almost downplayed the fact council was cleared of any wrongdoing, and instead focused on the disagreements over procedure.
“The disappointing thing for me was that he went through the exercise and found no fault with what we were doing,” Kilgour said. “In that case, the report should have been very short. He chose to make it much longer and dwell on issues that weren’t on the table at the start of the exercise.”
And the fact it was an investigation into closed door meetings especially rankles, Kilgour said, because they go to great lengths to ensure they don’t break the rules for meeting in private.
“You have to be sitting in on the meetings themselves to realizing the pains we go through to ensure we’re in compliance with the rules and regulations,” he said.
“If anyone is speaking at these meetings, and there’s even a remote chance they’re discussing something that should not be discussed behind closed doors, I’ve seen councillors get up and leave. And Caroline Hallsworth does a superb job of ensuring we’re doing everything properly, because ultimately, she’s the one that’s responsible for it.”
Kilgour said the way Marin delivered his report – the language he used, the way it was released – further alienated members of city council.
“I’ve been around audits for the last 30 years – and that’s what this essentially was, an audit,” he said. “And the way they are delivered is almost as important as the information they contain.”
In an interview Sept. 6, Marin said he’s anxious to turn the page with Sudbury councillors.
“I’d like to be able to smooth the rough edges, to have a dialogue and find a way forward,” he said. “I’m hoping that this takes the form of an information session. If they want to ask hard questions about the process, I’m prepared to listen.
“What I see this as being is a very constructive way to move forward to make sure there’s no conflict the next time we proceed with an investigation … It’s a great opportunity to deal with the misconceptions and misunderstandings about what we do.”
Marin defended the very public way his office operates, arguing that the limits of the penalties he can impose means he has to find other ways to convince people to pay attention to his findings.
“I don’t have the power of a court. My rulings aren’t binding. If I find that something is wrong, then I have to advocate for change,” he said.
“It’s called moral suasion, in my business. My job is to convince people to change their course of action … That certainly means I need to connect with people. If I’m the ombudsman and I’m living under a shell somewhere, issuing reports that nobody reads, if you’re in power, what are you going to do? Ignore them.”
Despite everything, Kilgour said he and other councillors respect the ombudsman’s office.
“His office, just like our Auditor General’s office here, is very valuable,” he said. “You have to remember we’re the ones who chose him to put him in that oversight position. There were other choices, but we chose him because we respect the government and we anticipated it would be a more thorough process.”