There was far too much sabre-rattling and trench-digging on both sides of the table when Ontario Ombudsman André Marin sent three investigators to look into the legality of four closed door meetings of Greater Sudbury city council.
For what it is worth, Marin found the four meetings in question, at which the contract of Auditor General Brian Bigger was discussed, were entirely lawful.
But this finding could have been easily overlooked in reading the report and in reading the reaction of Sudbury’s elected officials to the document.
Instead of being a story about how the municipality was, in fact, following proper procedure, it became a story of a crusading official wagging his finger at city councillors who would rather take their toys and go home than play the game by the rules.
It became a story of big personalities slamming headlong into one another in an explosion of accusations, insinuations and puffery.
In the report, Marin, after first writing that council had done nothing wrong, lambasted councillors for their refusal to co-operate with the investigation. He tossed around loaded words like “abysmal,” “dubious” and “affront.”
He pigeon-holed the city’s elected officials as the least co-operative body with which his office has had to deal.
In calling out council in the way he did, it is almost as if Marin, knowing that he would get the last word in the form of the report and dissatisfied that he could not find council at fault for their adherence to procedure, decided to criticize them for their etiquette instead.
The Office of the Ombudsman is an important institution in ensuring elected bodies operate within the letter of the law.
But in taking councillors to task for their behaviour in such a spectacular fashion, Marin makes the office appear petty and peevish.
That does not, however, let council off the hook. It was the refusal by 10 councillors to co-operate with the investigation that precipitated Marin’s dramatic chastisement, after all.
Where Marin comes off as peevish, the councillors who refused to co-operate come off as spifeful and thin-skinned.
Regardless of how they felt about the investigation, councillors should have shown respect for the investigative process, which ultimately vindicated them. Then, once the investigation was complete and the report made public, their criticism of the process itself would have carried weight.
The Ombudsman should have stuck to the facts and left his personal feelings out of the report. He is a procedural critic, not a social one.
Confident the investigation would turn up nothing untoward, councillors should have swallowed their pride and answered the questions.
The long and the short of it, the swords, shovels and egos should have been left at the boardroom door.