For allegedly overstepping his power to “publicly attack a private citizen,” City of Greater Sudbury integrity commissioner Robert Swayze is facing criticism from a report’s subject.
In the report in question, prepared for city council’s Sept. 14 meeting, Swayze recommends that the city’s elected officials reprimand Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan for what has taken place on the Valley East public group Facebook page, which Kirwan administrates with his wife, Valerie.
The page, Swayze reported, contains “political statements supporting him which he knew to be from his wife who disguised her identity as Jessie Timmons: (a fictitious person), giving the false impression that such statements were the opinion of the community.”
Yesterday, Kirwan defended himself in an interview with Sudbury.com, saying it was his wife who posted under the Jessie Timmons name — a point Swayze said Kirwan also affirmed in an affidavit.
Today, Valerie criticized Swayze in an open letter sent to city council and local media in which she also defends both her husband and herself. You can read the letter in its entirety here.
“How dare you think you have some kind of power or control over me when I am not an employee of the City or have any say in how it’s run,” she wrote.
“You are basically saying I have no right to my own thoughts and am incapable of making my own decisions unless I run it past my husband first. You are insulting me not only as an individual, but as a woman, and every other female out there, who with civility, speaks up for what we believe in. Your report isn’t worth the paper it’s written on!
“Women fought hard for their rights and to have a voice. I will not be silenced by someone such as yourself or any complainant.”
Valerie reaffirmed that her husband never used the Jessie Timmons moniker and that Swayze “abused” his power and is “trying to smear” her name.
“How very sad on your part,” she wrote. “I have some chronic health issues that are exacerbated by stress. They are in high gear, thank you, and will be for quite some time to come from this fiasco you have caused!”
In her letter, Valerie also clarifies her reasons for using a fake account, which she wrote is for administrative purposes and backup.
Meanwhile, Swayze’s report notes: “There is no operational reason to disguise the identity of an administrator in any Facebook back-up account and it is contrary to the Facebook Terms of Service to post in a fictitious name.”
Although he hadn’t read Valerie’s letter when Sudbury.com reached out to him earlier today, Swayze said he had received it.
After being relayed her main point — that she’s a private citizen outside the auspices of his work — Swayze agreed without reservation.
“No question,” he said. “I have no jurisdiction over her, and I’m only dealing with the councillor who is an administrator of the site. He knows fully all the posts, he blocks people, he mutes people. He claims she does it, but that doesn’t matter. The point is he’s aware of these critical statements that this fictitious person is making.”
Although clarifying that there’s nothing criminal about what has transpired, Swayze said in criminal law, “you don’t have to commit the offence, you can conspire.”
“He knows every one of her posts,” he said.
“A councillor cannot disguise his or her identity — that’s in the code of conduct — and he’s done something indirectly he can’t do directly. He knows fully that she’s giving the impression that it’s another member of the community agreeing with him and she’s been doing it for years.”
In her letter, Valerie notes that although administrating the Valley East page eats up several hours per day and causes a great deal of stress due to people “hell bent on attacking and threatening us,” she said it’s worthwhile for the majority of people who are appreciative.
“I refuse to punish thousands of members because people such as yourself protect the cowards while throwing people like myself to the wolves,” she wrote.
Swayze’s report was in response to two complaints against Kirwan made by the same person who asked to remain anonymous. The complaints allege the councillor received benefits from developer Dario Zulich in exchange for supporting the Kingsway Entertainment District and that he or his wife used the ‘Jessie Timmons’ name on Facebook.
There was “no evidence” of the first accusation, Swayze reported, but Kirwan signed an affidavit affirming that Valerie used the fictitious name.
Greater Sudbury city council is set to make a decision on Swayze’s recommendation during Tuesday’s meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and take place virtually.
During this meeting, Kirwan said he intends to argue against Swayze’s conclusion that he violated the city’s code of conduct.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.