Sudbury taxpayers are short some $500,000 and they want to know — in fact, have every right to know — why.
They want to know how a business with a city contract could accumulate a steadily rising IOU to this city’s residents that, at one point, hit more than $1 million. They want to know why that same business could have its contract renewed not once, but twice, despite owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city.
They want to know who authorized the owner to scratch out the business name on city cheques and replace it with his own, so that money — taxpayers’ money — could be deposited into a personal account, rather than a business account, the questionable ethics of which should be clear to anyone.
They want to know how the charismatic owner of 1211250 Ontario Inc., Tony Sharma, a one-time rising star in Greater Sudbury’s business community and a man once touted as a potential city councillor, could have charmed his way around the checks and balances in place to prevent just that type of misbehaviour.
But most of all, they want to know this cannot, and will not, happen again.
Like you, we at this newspaper have more questions than answers.
When it comes to the criminal investigation, we agree with the thorough OPP probe that absolutely appalling business practices do not necessarily indicate criminality — despite the stink.
We do, however, differ with the city when it comes to the argument disciplinary actions taken against city employees — if any were taken, no one is saying — are protected under Ontario’s privacy laws and must stay secret.
See, we asked the Privacy Commissioner about that and a very helpful media relations specialist told Northern Life that, in fact, the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act doesn’t apply in this case. Under the legislation, the city has no grounds to keep quiet about disciplinary measures against individual employees.
The commissioner’s office did say individual contracts could include provisions preventing the city from coming clean. Now, if the city were drafting employment agreements that would protect even individuals who play fast and loose with the rules, it would be a scandal unto itself, and Northern Life is poking around to see if such a situation exists.
The rules that were broken that allowed this to happen were beefed up this year thanks to more diligent work from Auditor General Brian Bigger, which should go a long way to preventing it from happening again in the future.
But the fact remains, $500,000 of taxpayer money is still missing and will likely never be recovered. The fact remains no one — although it’s unlikely a single person is to blame — seems to have been held accountable.
Let’s be clear, sending a few heads rolling down the palace steps might make everyone feel a little better, but it won’t fix the problem.
The public wants the city to own up. The public wants answers. The public deserves answers.
But the City of Greater Sudbury could start with an apology.