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Tonight’s meeting will be one for the books

By all accounts, tonight’s meeting of Greater Sudbury city council will be standing room only.

By all accounts, tonight’s meeting of Greater Sudbury city council will be standing room only.

The much-anticipated faceoff (some might call it a showdown) between councillors and Ontario Ombudsman André Marin tops the agenda in most people’s minds, but it is far from the only important item slated for discussion and decision.

This is, to put it mildly, a packed agenda.

Besides the clear-the-air session with the municipal watchdog, councillors are set to pass the municipal budget, settle on the store hours referendum questions and approve new restrictions on the controversial Healthy Community Initiative funds policy.

Much ink has been spilled reporting on all of these. That decisions are expected tonight on each is fitting as the year draws to a close and provides a suitable political cap to 2012.

Like the anticipation before a heavyweight prizefight, the face-to-face meeting with André Marin is the agenda item that will draw the most attention.

His closed-meeting report in August singled out Greater Sudbury’s elected officials as the most unco-operative in the province for their refusal (save for Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume and Ward 9 Coun. Doug Craig) to meet with his investigators sans lawyer.

Councillors took a beating on the blogs for their decision not to speak with investigators, so it will be interesting to see how they receive the ombudsman when so many Sudburians will be in the gallery watching — and likely judging — their every move.

And while this might be the most anticipated agenda item, it is far from the most important.

Despite the opposition of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Workers union, that council has taken a step to bring Sudbury’s regulated store hours into the 21st Century is greeted positively by most people.

Of course, there is a significant portion of the electorate who would like the city simply to kill the regulation without spending the money on the referendum.

But any movement in this area will be applauded by the 70 per cent of Sudburians who believe the city should get out of the business of regulating store hours.

When it comes to the ward funds policy, it would have been preferable if council had listened to Auditor Brian Bigger’s suggestion and taken themselves out of the equation entirely, turning management of the funds over to staff.

But the measures to be passed this evening are certainly a step in the right direction.

As for the budget and the 2.9-per-cent jump it contains, what can be said? No one likes to pay higher taxes, but the hike is in line with the cost-of-living increase.

Council and particularly staff worked hard to rein it in to 2.9, and their efforts should not go unnoticed.

Each of these items will have implications stretching clear to the next municipal election and beyond. Each is something of which voters need to be keenly aware.

The decisions made this evening will have broad-reaching effects for every Sudburian, the young and the old, the tall and the small.

Let’s be clear: For many residents of this city, their choices in the next municipal election — still two years away — could be decided tonight.