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Editorial: No option but to remove councillor from police board

Greater Sudbury city council does not often agree on much, but the motion to oust Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini from the Police Services Board brought them together
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Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini.

It is not the kind of kumbaya moment anyone likes to see, but city council firmly came together this week around the question of whether Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini’s tenure on the Police Services Board should continue.

In a member’s motion, Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc called for Vagnini’s removal from the board for not calling 911 following an event he witnessed in Memorial Park. 

To briefly recap, during the Jan. 18 Finance and Administration Committee meeting, the Ward 2 councillor related a story that seemed to be in support of recent statements he has made about a rise in violence among the downtown homeless population. 

He described being in a large tent with several members of the downtown homeless community.  The councillor said there were eight men in the tent as well as a woman. The men, he said, were yelling at the woman and she “ran for her life”.

Asked by the mayor whether he called 911, Vagnini said he had not because as a member of the police services board, he is not allowed to call 911. The councillor is absolutely incorrect in this regard. The claim is a strange one, to be sure, especially when it comes out of the mouth of a former chair of the PSB.

It is no secret that Leduc and Vagnini are at odds. Vagnini released a statement from his daughter that accuses Leduc of contacting her and asking questions about her father that she felt were inappropriate. Leduc then accused Vagnini of threatening him in a phone call following a Jan. 25 meeting. Police are investigating that claim.

That Leduc then moved to have Vagnini removed from the PSB could be viewed as a salvo in an ongoing political dispute between the two men, and perhaps it is.

Whatever Leduc’s motivation for the member’s motion, whether it is politically motivated or not, council’s response to the motion was categorical: a 9-2 vote to have Vagnini removed from the police board and replaced with Ward. 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann.

Consensus and cohesion has been a challenge for this council, that is no secret. And while it is refreshing to see council act in concert, it is disappointing that disciplining their colleague is the issue that brings them together. 

We are sure taxpayers would appreciate seeing our elected officials bring this same level of co-operation to other more important issues, including the important issues of homelessness, violence and addiction raised rather indelicately and inaccurately by Vagnini. Why can we not see the same cohesion around bigger challenges?

Only Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti and Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier voted against the motion, which is not surprising as the three councillors seem to have aligned themselves around their opposition to the Kingsway Entertainment District project and the issues with homelessness downtown.

Despite the wording of the members’ motion, council’s resolve to remove Vagnini stems from more than his decision not to call 911.

His bizarre explanation for why he did not call police is certainly a big factor. How a two-term councillor – and a former chair of the police services board – could possibly believe board members could not phone 911 is unfathomable. 

People can be wrong though, so as unbelievable as it might be, it is possible Vagnini genuinely believed it was a conflict of interest for a PSB member to phone 911. 

The displeasure of Vagnini’s colleagues also relate to statements the councillor and others made during a virtual town hall meeting last month. Alongside Montpellier and Signoretti, Vagnini has been hosting livestreamed meetings during which he takes questions from constituents and expounds on various issues, including the opioid crisis, homelessness and the Kingsway Entertainment District.

During one of these events in January, Vagnini and others made what seemed to be outlandish claims, referring to frozen bodies being pulled from tents downtown; a who woman froze to death in her tent outside city hall, and; the city evicting people from tents in the downtown homeless encampment. 

Maybe the strangest of the strange claims, though, is that the city has $300 million tucked away (that is about half the city’s yearly budget, incidentally) in a bank account that is available to be used to address the homelessness crisis, but instead the city refuses to use it.

Sudbury.com reporter Tyler Clarke fact-checked these claims, as did city staff. Nothing Vagnini claimed – not the frozen bodies, not a double stabbing, not the evictions and not the secret millions – could be substantiated, not by the city and not by the police. 

And to make matters worse and more bizarre, when confronted with the lack of evidence, Vagnini has persisted and even doubled-down, going so far as to compare himself to Christopher Columbus, going where no one else has dared go.

Vagnini is a hardworking councillor with a talent for endearing himself to his constituents. But his antics and his bizarre claims in recent weeks have embarrassed the Police Service Board and embarrassed council. In fact, they have embarrassed the city.

His actions left councillors with no options. Vagnini had to go. 

Sudbury.com's editorial opinion is determined by an editorial board made up of senior staff.