Lack of leadership from Mayor Marianne Matichuk is at the core of problems at city council, but there’s still time to turn things around, says Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac.
“I would say it’s a leadership issue,” Dutrisac said Sept. 27. “As a leader, it’s important to communicate. With the (previous) mayors, they worked with us as a team and tried to get support and find solutions to problems.”
Dutrisac, who was a councillor in Rayside-Balfour with Mayor Lionel Lalonde, and was on city council during John Rodriguez’s time as mayor from 2006-2010, said a lack of experience may be hampering Matichuk.
“I’ll tell you when John Rodriguez was there or Lionel Lalonde, I was in their office almost every day. (With Matichuk), I see her at meetings, and I saw her at AMO. Do I have to say more?”
Dutrisac also questioned how interested Matichuk is in what’s going on in wards across the city, something she said other mayors have made a point of finding out.
“There has to be an engagement or a commitment to know what’s going on in all the wards,” she said. “I don’t think if you asked the mayor what work I’m doing in my community, that she could answer that … I question whether or not the mayor really knows what’s going on in our wards.”
She also said Matichuk doesn’t talk to councillors to seek their support for her issues before they come to the council table. The mayor has lost a series of votes since she was elected, including attempts to deregulate store hours and gain support for a law that would allow voters to recall politicians between elections.
“She never approached me directly to see if I would support this recall idea,” Dutrisac said. “We’re all equal at the table. And I have to say I get along extremely well with the 11 other councillors at the table … So there are improvements to be made in my relationship to the mayor. On both sides. I never put the blame on just one person.”
Matichuk may find councillors more willing to go along with her agenda if she was willing to get more involved with issues councillors have in their wards, Dutrisac said. She cited a recent example where she tried, in vain, to arrange a meeting with herself, Matichuk and a developer from her ward who was having trouble dealing with city hall.
“She sent an assistant and we met with staff,” Dutrisac said. “They were expecting the mayor to be there. I’ve sent one request (this term), and I don’t know the reason, but she was unavailable … For me, the role of councillors and the mayor is to be there and to solve issues.”
Another example is a news release issued by the mayor’s office Sept. 26 that appeared to blame councillors for any dysfunction at city hall. In it, the mayor said council “must take full responsibility” for the fact public confidence in their local government is eroding.
“Council must commit to focusing on the promises we made to voters two years ago,” the statement read. “Council must commit to putting the needs of Greater Sudbury ahead of our own.
“My door has always been open to councillors to talk about their ideas and concerns, and it always will be. Council must work together to move Greater Sudbury forward. Taxpayers deserve nothing less.”
Aside from appearing to lay all the blame on council, Dutrisac said the first she heard of the statement was after it was released to the media.
“I firmly believe there may be a leadership issue,” she repeated. “And there’s a lack of communication. But I don’t think we`re dysfunctional. Not at all.
“I’m a positive person. I firmly believe that councillors should be agents of hope. But I’m tired of all the negativity. I’m tired of having my integrity and professionalism questioned.”
Matichuk was returning from a mining expo Sept. 27 and was unavailable for comment. But Mike Whitehouse, her spokesperson, said the mayor’s statement was not intended to put the blame on councillors alone.
“The use of the word ‘council’ is the royal we,” Whitehouse said. “She is a member of council. She’s not saying that she wants city council to take responsibility for the mire that they’re suggesting we’re in. She’s saying that all 13 need to take responsibility.
“She’s the leader of that council. When she says council needs to take responsibility, of course she’s talking about herself, too.”
The debate over problems at the council table was sparked Sept. 25 when Ward 12
Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann suggested, at the end a city council meeting, that a summit or special meeting was needed to clear the air and refocus efforts for the last two years of their term.
“I’m not satisfied with how things are going at council,” Landry-Altmann said. “I’m suggesting we have something like a council summit or retreat … to regroup and refocus for the last two years.”
She left without speaking to reporters, and didn’t return calls from Northern Life seeking comment for this story. But Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume questioned the value of trying to hold such a meeting just as they head into serious budget deliberations. There’s likely not enough time to arrange a meeting until January or February, he said, and by then, council would only have 18 months or so left in their term.
“And I don’t know if it would be fruitful or not,” he said.
He said he assesses issues individually, evaluates their merits, and makes a decision. That wouldn’t change, summit or no summit, he said.
“We don’t all agree on different motions or on everything,” he said. “If someone has a good idea, I’ll support it. If I don’t like it, I’ll vote against it.”
Communication needs to be improved between the mayor’s office and council, but Berthiaume said informal talks are next to impossible because everyone is concerned about violating rules for private meetings.
“There’s so much paranoia over meetings now,” he said. “There’s so many regulations now, and there’s the fact the ombudsman will jump in.”
One factor raising tensions, he said, is that funding from provincial and federal governments have dried up, making moving ahead with projects much more difficult.
“The last council, we were pretty lucky. There was a stimulus program – we had a whole bunch of money to do Paris Street, Falconbridge (Road). We got money for the amphitheatre. Now we’re fighting for pennies, and it’s more difficult.
“And we all have our priorities. We all have our pet projects.”
Berthiaume said Matichuk doesn’t seem all that determined to get her campaign promises through council. Instead, she seems content to simply bring them to the table.
“She brings them to council, and if they get shot down, they get shot down,” he said. “And some of her (promises) were pretty hard to accept,” also citing recall legislation as an example.
“If she wants to talk about a new arena, that’s one thing. But recall? She’ll have a hard time getting support there. I don’t think anyone was supporting it.”
Ward 9 Coun. Doug Craig, a veteran councillor, questioned Landry-Altmann’s motives in raising the issue, then leaving before answering questions. Craig wonders if her actions were the unofficial launch of her bid to become mayor.
“I’ve seen it before – and I’ve been around since Tom Davies – where, this time of year comes around and maybe someone decides they’re going to run for a newer position, or the mayor’s job or something,” Craig said. “Why else would you do it? Why else would she do that when the mayor wasn’t even there? Why would she do it and then not talk to the media? Why wouldn’t she talk to councillors about it first?”
If she really wanted to change things, Landry-Altmann should have tried talking to the mayor first, Craig said.
“She could have talked to the mayor today (Sept. 27) or tomorrow and tried to work out some of the things she thinks is bugging city council,” he said. “If I have a problem with the mayor or city staff or any councillor, all I have to do is pick up the phone … In my view, it didn’t work very well for her, and won’t do much for her in terms of the election, either.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Mayor Matichuk attended a Sept. 20 Greater Sudbury Taxpayer's Association fundraising event. Matichuk was at an Eat Local Sudbury event with FedNor Minister Tony Clement that night.