Alone among candidates for mayor, Brian Bigger, who is on unpaid leave from his job as the city's auditor general, has been accused by three of his high-profile opponents of being less than straightforward with the facts. A closer look, along with a response from the Bigger campaign at the end:
– The Greater Sudbury Transit ticket scandal was made public in a 2010 report when Bigger was auditor general, when the public learned that more than $500,000 in ticket money was gone:
“If not for my report, the scandal would have been buried,” Bigger said, at his campaign launch Aug. 21. “That's $500,000 – that money could have gone to the arts, parks, leisure or child care services, or actually improving Sudbury Transit services … Has council forgotten that it's our money they are spending?”
Two mayoral candidates – former mayor John Rodriguez and Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis – were on city council at the time. Both dispute Bigger's assertion the scandal would have been buried if not for his audit. Dupuis said most of the discussion had to be conducted in closed-door meetings, because of potential litigation and personnel issues involved.
But council asked former Greater Sudbury Police Chief Frank Elsner to investigate, who then handed the case to the OPP.
“That's one of (Bigger's) inaccurate statements,” Dupuis said. “Let's be realistic. We asked the police to get involved to see if charges could be laid. We wanted to get to the bottom of it … It had nothing to do with his audit.
“Ninety-five per cent of what took place had to take place in camera, because of the potential litigation … It's a part of our oath of office that we cannot discuss at any time what is said in camera. That's what makes it extremely difficult and extremely frustrating for us.”
The matter would have been made public once the results of the criminal investigation were complete, Dupuis and Rodriguez said.
“It's not true,” Rodriguez said, of Bigger's statement. “Elsner recommended the OPP be brought in because of the conflict. This was long before the auditor entered the picture.”
– On the $23M Greater Sudbury Transit garage:
“Some transit drivers are now concerned that when the width of buses were measured, the mirrors were forgotten in the measurements,” Bigger said at a press conference Sept. 4.
“The drivers are now worried that buses will be damaged trying to manoeuvre around the roof support pillars. Was there a gross miscalculation of the width of the buses? And if so, at roughly $500 a mirror replacement, how much will this damage to buses cost us?”
“I can't comment on political platforms or candidates (but) I can confirm absolutely that the buses fit in the garage,” said Tony Cecutti, Greater Sudbury's general manager of Infrastructure. “Certainly we inherited a building with columns in it, but the spacing between those columns is quite substantial. There's more than adequate room for not just buses to move around, but snow plows, fire trucks, stuff like that … It's a spacious facility with lots of room for everyone to get around.”
– On a proposal by another mayoral candidate, Dan Melanson, who has proposed issuing municipal bonds to help close the $1 billion gap in road and sewer maintenance work:
“I will not see our city in debt for the next four decades to finish our roads, work that only seems to last as long as the cars we drive,” Bigger said Sept. 11.
“Forty years from now, I don't want our kids asking why we are still paying for roads that were fixed when we were kids? … My understanding is the Municipal Act will not allow us to fund road projects that last 20 years with long-term debt ... It would be against the law. Our roads are designed to last 20 years. They (province) are really trying to protect the citizens and they are doing it through the Municipal Act."
“He's taking a snippet of something and trying to turn into something we're not even talking about,” Melanson responded. “He's just muddying the waters with a statement like that. Of course you can't debt-finance an asset beyond its useful life.”
Any municipal bond term would have to match the life of the road, Melanson said.
“So if a road lasts 20 years, probably you would make the bond 15 years, because you want to have a bit of extra insurance at the end that the asset isn't going to be worn out before the bond runs its course.”
And Conrad Spezowka, media relations co-ordinator with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, said such bond issues are fairly common.
“The Municipal Act does not prohibit municipalities from (issuing bonds) to pay for infrastructure such as roads,” he said. “In fact, many municipalities have done this in the past.”
Statement from Brian Bigger:
In response to the above story, a representative from the Brian Bigger campaign emailed the following reply on his behalf:
"Telling the truth doesn't translate into negative campaigning. I am determined to continue to tell the truth, because people have a right to know. This may scare some candidates, but I have brought up a number of serious issues which need to be addressed, and that people have asked me to address.
“Certain individuals have attempted to silence me when I was Auditor General. I didn't allow that to happen then, and I won't now. When Mayor, I will fix the problems that exist and City Hall will become open, transparent and accountable under my watch. I have a strong plan to do this, and to make Greater Sudbury a better place.
"In reference to the transit garage, the scope of the project has never been referenced. Citizens have a right to know the total final cost of this project. The secrecy has to stop.
"With regards to another candidate's plans to fund roads with municipal bonds, what was initially presented and what is now being discussed in your article has changed. Water and sewer infrastructure was not a part of the KPMG $700 million gap estimate and was not included in the candidate's platform, however it appears to now be included.
"That same candidate's platform only spoke about funding roads with municipal bonds at an interest rate of 4.25%, with a 40 year term and an annual repayment amount of $47.2 million. He's now speaking about repayment over a 15 year term and makes no mention of the annual repayment amount. What's the real story? Citizens deserve the truth, not a bait-and-switch approach to politics."