For breaching the city’s code of conduct, Greater Sudbury city council voted Tuesday night in favour of reprimanding Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan.
The decision capped an almost two-hour discussion, which included a half-hour report by Kirwan in defence of himself and his wife, Valerie. Kirwan also used his time to lob criticisms at integrity commissioner Robert Swayze, the author of the report recommending his reprimand.
Kirwan came under fire for allowing multiple posts under the fake name “Jessie Timmons” to be posted on the Valley East Facebook page, which he administrates with his wife, Valerie.
The posts, which were flattering to Kirwan and critical of opponents, gave “the false impression that such statements were the opinion of the community,” according to Swayze’s report.
Although Swayze clarified that he was satisfied Kirwan did not post using the Jessie Timmons moniker, which only Valerie used, Kirwan was aware of the posts as an administrator of the page and therefore “colluded with his wife” to contravene the city’s code of conduct.
The code requires that members of council and local boards “shall perform their functions with integrity, accountability and transparency and avoid the improper use of the influence of their office, and conflicts of interest, both apparent and real.”
They are also required to “always identify themselves without any attempt to cover, disguise or mislead as to their identity or status as an elected representative of the City whenever using social media.”
Tuesday night’s livestreamed meeting cut out briefly during city council’s vote, but at least two-thirds of council were seen supporting the motion that Kirwan be reprimanded.
The most vocal of those to reprimand Kirwan was Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti, who attempted to call a point of order as Kirwan neared the half-hour mark of his defense.
“You’ve had 27 minutes, and councillors get cut off after five or 10 minutes, so Mr. Mayor, point of order,” Signoretti said after reminding Kirwan, who was in the midst of criticizing Swayze at the time, that it was him on trial and not Swayze.
“I can hear the hostility and I’m trying to wonder, I’m almost trying to wonder who the anonymous complainant was at this point,” Kirwan responded.
Signoretti later vehemently denied the implication that it was his complaint that prompted the integrity commissioner investigation that resulted in Kirwan’s reprimand.
In addition to Kirwan lashing out at Swayze, Signoretti noted that Kirwan has pointed to a number of “conspiracies” as being to blame for the investigation against him, including that it’s an attempt to silence a pro-Kingsway Entertainment District member of council.
“Your standards for integrity, accountability and transparency are far below what’s set out in the code,” Signoretti told Kirwan, later adding that the council as a whole is now facing public criticism as a result of Kirwan’s actions and that everyone’s reputation has been put at risk.
“When you have one bad apple in the basket it affects the whole basket.”
During his defense, Kirwan reiterated that it was his wife who posted as ‘Jessie Timmons’ and that it is she who moderates comments on the Valley East Facebook page.
“There are two witnesses you have to ask about collusion — my wife and myself,” he said. “There’s no other proof of collusion.”
Of the 4,640 posts and 29,652 comments made on the page during the past 90 days, Kirwan said 44 were made using the Jessie Timmons account.
Kirwan defended his wife’s use of the moniker, saying there are administrative reasons to use an extra account and that it was “more enjoyable to make comments and engage in activities with other people using ‘Jessie Timmons,’” as it didn’t carry the baggage of being identified as a city councillor’s wife.
“It’s a witch hunt, and if anybody wants to find something wrong with any councillor there’s something in that code of conduct you can latch onto,” Kirwan said.
Swayze was criticized for citing Facebook posts in his report that were older than the 90-day window in which evidence was admissible and for including an allegation that Kirwan received benefits from developer Dario Zulich in relation to the Kingsway Entertainment District project.
No evidence was provided for the allegation, which Kirwan denied in an affidavit.
Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier questioned Swayze’s judgement in including the baseless accusation in his public report to council.
“I take the criticism, but on the other hand, as the integrity commissioner I try to report all the facts publicly as required and I felt that the entire complaint should be reported,” Swayze said.
Both the baseless complaint and the one related to Jessie Timmons came from the same person, who requested and received anonymity.
Swayze’s report was released online last week in advance of Tuesday night’s meeting, prompting missives from both Kirwan and his wife.
In an open letter, Valerie criticized Swayze for overstepping his role to “publicly attack a private citizen,” alleging sexism in that his accusation implies she is not independent of her husband.
In his own open letter, which he sent to media in a document labelled as a guest column, Kirwan called on Swayze to apologize to his wife and to resign from his position.
The situation has also become a running joke on social media platforms Facebook and Reddit, where memes poking fun of the situation have been posted.
Kirwan’s reprimand does not include any additional recommended action, but Swayze said he hopes it serves to help prevent fake social media accounts from muddying the next municipal election.
As of Tuesday night, the Jessie Timmons account still existed on Facebook and was listed as an administrator for the Valley East page.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.