Matichuk says voters won’t soon forget decision to fire the ombudsman
The ombudsman is gone as Greater Sudbury’s closed-door meeting investigator, but in typical fashion, there was plenty of drama before the issue was settled.
A last-minute motion by Ward 8 Coun. Fabio Belli at the Feb. 26 meeting to reconsider the decision to fire André Marin gained enough support to make it to the discussion stage, but no further.
Announcing he made a mistake in voting to fire the ombudsman two weeks earlier, Belli said he misjudged the public’s reaction and was willing to support Marin, if that’s what his constituents wanted.
“I’m sorry. It was a mistake that I made,” Belli said.
Ward 9 Coun. Doug Craig also changed his vote – “I’ll be flip-flopping on this,” he said — as did Ward 1 Coun. Joe Cimino. But along with Mayor Marianne Matichuk, their votes fell well short of the seven needed to reverse the decision.
Matichuk said the vocal crowd at Tom Davies Square spoke volumes about how deeply the issue resonated with the public.
“This is bigger than Elton John — this has legs,” Matichuk said, standing in a nearly empty council chamber where some councillors lingered to give press interviews.
The chamber had been filled with an overflowing crowd – many people had to stand or sit in the aisle — full of people angry about Marin’s firing, and Matichuk had to call on them to settle down more than once. Members of the Greater Sudbury Taxpayer’s Association, who called on the public to attend the meeting, said thousands of people had mailed back their petitions calling on councillors to rehire Marin.
“Taxpayers are still the winners even after councillors refused to admit they made the wrong decision,” the group wrote on its Facebook page after the vote. “Thank you to all for showing up in huge numbers to show council that taxpayers are paying attention. We have close to 4,000 signed petitions and want to get more.
“The more we have, the more we show council that taxpayers care.”
Matichuk’s Elton John comment referred to Marin’s first – but not last – investigation of council, the 2008 investigation of the Elton John ticket scandal.
A member of the public complained to Marin that councillors met in private to discuss whether to return the dozens of tickets they bought before they went on sale to the public. At that meeting, they decided to return as many tickets as possible, eventually handing back 71.
Marin issued a report entitled “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me: Opening the Door on the Elton John Ticket Scandal,” clearing councillors of wrongdoing, but adding that they came very close to breaking the rules.
The next time the ombudsman investigated Sudbury city council was spring 2011, in connection to closed-door meetings held with Auditor General Brian Bigger over problems at Sudbury Transit. They were cleared in that investigation, as well.
But it was Marin’s investigation of other closed-door meetings involving Bigger late 2011 that led to the rupture in relations.
Councillors insisted on having the city’s solicitor with them when the three-person investigation team came to Sudbury in June 2012. When told it was against the rules, only Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume and Ward 9 Coun. Doug Craig agreed to be interviewed without a lawyer present. Matichuk and City Clerk Caroline Hallsworth co-operated with their personal lawyer’s present.
In his report on that investigation, Marin again cleared them, but characterized them as the least co-operative council he has ever dealt with. He said they could be fined or jailed if the failed to co-operate in the future.
The war of words escalated until Marin made a disastrous fence-mending trip to a December 2012 council meeting, in which he attacked City Solicitor Jamie Canapini for giving council bad advice in advising them they could have a lawyer present during investigations.
In a surprise move at a Feb. 12 meeting, councillors supported a motion by Berthiaume and voted 12-1 – Matichuk the lone voice against – to fire the ombudsman.
Marin took to social media to demand changes to provincial law allowing city councils to choose their own closed-door meeting investigators. Amberley-Gavel, a respected firm based in London, Ont., will handle future investigations in Sudbury, as it does for about 129 other cities in Ontario. Marin handles about 190.
Marin tweeted he was watching Northern Life’s life feed of the Feb. 26 meeting, but didn’t make any comment on the decision.
Councillors defended their decision to fire him, saying Marin’s criticism of them had become personal and they couldn’t expect fairness from him.
Berthiaume said Marin “abandoned” his role as investigator before his job was officially finished in Sudbury. He also said the next council would be able to change the decision, particularly if Marin was no longer on the job.
“He has shown very little respect for council and our staff,” Berthiaume said, his voice rising to drown out shouts from the crowd.
“I will not be flip-flopping on this,” said Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Laundry-Altmann, who said it was Marin himself, not the investigations, that is the problem.
“I have no problem being accountable on this. I’ve been doing that for eight years.”
Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau made an emotional speech about the personal attacks he and other councillors have endured, before and after the decision to fire Marin. Barbeau said he works long hours as a ward councillor, to the point he lost his full-time job. When people say abusive things on blogging websites, they seem to forget he’s a real person.
“I don’t appreciate the constant abuse,” he said. Councillors “are human. We are parents of children. I have three sons.”
It’s one thing to disagree with them, but the constant criticism is a reason why many good people don’t run for public office, he said. People who accuse him of being corrupt or abusing his office are making baseless accusations, he said.
“I am none of those,” he said. “And those that know me, they will attest to that.
“I was happy before I got elected,” and he’ll be happy after his political life is over, as well, he said.
Marin has tried to humiliate council and there’s no reason to tolerate his behaviour, Barbeau said.
“He hasn’t earned my respect,” Barbeau said. “We need an investigator that doesn’t waste our staff’s time.”