The first report by Greater Sudbury’s integrity commissioner has found fault with Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan, whose online behaviour has been the source of complaints for the last few years.
Robert Swayze, in a report dated Sept. 3, recommends Kirwan be reprimanded for violating two sections of the code of conduct for council and local boards.
In his report, Swayze said he received nine complaints about Kirwan since he became the commissioner in January. Among the complaints was at least one from the downtown BIA, which Kirwan has called to be abolished for taking part in a lawsuit against the city over the Kingsway Entertainment District.
“Most of the complaints have several grounds and many overlap,” Swayze writes. “I have decided that I will describe generally the substance of the nine complaints and it is not necessary in this report and not in the public interest, to identify any of the complainants.”
A common complaint was related to Kirwan’s support of the KED, with many accusing him of profiting from the plan – an accusation Swayze dismissed “for lack of evidence.”
Many complaints were directly about the Valley East Facebook page Kirwan runs, which includes municipal information Kirwan offers to members, and for which he writes paid advertisements.
Swayze said, despite complaints, councillors in Sudbury are part-time and there is nothing wrong with him operating a for-profit page that’s separate from the city.
“In my opinion, he is entitled to operate a business even if his knowledge acquired as a councillor assists in that task,” he writes in the report.
Where Kirwan went wrong, Swayze writes, is the way he reacts to people on the page who disagree with him.
"One common thread through most of the complaints is the allegation that Councillor Kirwan abuses and harasses members of the community if they disagree with him, which is contrary to the code,” he writes. “Many examples of his reaction to criticism of his ideas on issues were provided.”
Swayze cites three posts, in which Kirwan calls opponents “a bunch of piranha(s),” and refers to another opponent’s arguments as “drivel.”
“From the complaints I have received, I find his approach to such members of the community, many of whom volunteer their time in support of the downtown, is arrogant and peremptory,” Swayze writes. “He appears too often to be unable to enter into professional debate with anyone who disagrees with him, but rather prefers personal attacks.”
Kirwan’s reaction to the investigation was also troubling, the integrity commissioner writes. The intent of the complainers was to “humiliate him,” Kirwan told Swayze, and to damage his reputation.
“I have become the public lightning rod for complaints and everything I say is being attacked by the same group of people.”
He also said Swayze should expect a stream of complaints about him over the next several years.
“It was obvious to me that he does not intend to change his aggressive behaviour and remains unable to politely accept contrary points of view,” Swayze writes.
While Kirwan has said he’ll exercise more restraint in the future, Swayze said that’s not enough.
“He continues to believe that a conspiracy exists among certain members of the community who he calls his enemies. His combative tactics must stop,” the report says.
City council must endorse any conclusions of the integrity commissioner. The report goes to council Sept. 24.