Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk’s legal bill for the lawyer she hired for last spring’s ombudsman investigation was $991.13, Northern Life has learned.
That bill will now be submitted to the city’s legal department and Matichuk will be reimbursed for the full amount, as is permitted under a bylaw passed in 1991.
The bylaw doesn’t limit the amount that can be claimed for legal costs. Instead, the bill will be sent to City Solicitor Jamie Canapini’s office, which will determine whether it’s reasonable.
Matichuk was one of two people who hired a lawyer to represent them when Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin sent a team to Sudbury to investigate a complaint about a closed-door meeting held in late 2011. City clerk Caroline Hallsworth also had legal representation.
Matichuk said she felt she needed a lawyer with her because it was her first time through the process, and the fact that the investigation was of a meeting in which personnel matters were discussed.
“My background working in HR and legal issues, there are times you need to have representation, especially when it comes to a personnel matter,” she said. “You have to be able to protect the integrity of the person being discussed.”
Matichuk was one of three members of city council who agreed to be interviewed by Marin’s team, although she was the only one who had a lawyer. Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume and Ward 9 Coun. Doug Craig also co-operated.
The rest of city council refused to be interviewed because they weren’t allowed representation from Canapini’s office. Marin cleared councillors of wrongdoing, but characterized them as the least co-operative council he has ever dealt with.
He argued that, because he has no punitive power, nobody needs a lawyer to represent them during investigations. He even threatened to jail or fine councillors in the future if they didn’t co-operate.
While not allowing the city’s lawyer to be present during the investigation, Marin allowed them to hire their own lawyers. When asked why she hired a lawyer when Marin said she didn’t need one, Matichuk said she disagreed with his assessment.
“That’s his opinion,” she said. “And he didn’t object to someone having a lawyer.”
Matichuk’s bill is dated Jan. 18, 2013. The case was considered open until after Marin met with city council in December.
However, no charges have been added since the ombudsman investigators were here last spring.
“The file wasn’t closed until after the ombudsman came to Sudbury,” Matichuk said, explaining why the bill is just being issued now.
While she wasn’t certain she would be reimbursed when she hired her lawyer, she said having a lawyer there was something she felt she needed to do.
“I assumed it was something the city would pay for, because it was happening on city time,” she said. “It’s a quasi-judicial process, and you are discussing someone. So you make the judgement calls. That’s business.”
Matichuk said it’s standard procedure in the business world to have legal representation when a personnel matter is under investigation.
“I’m going to be totally honest: it’s the cost of doing business,” she said.
“There could have been legal or other issues. It’s what happens when you’re running an office. Those are some of the things you have to take into consideration.
“You can nickel and dime things to death, but there is a cost to doing business.”
And while the bill is close to $1,000, Matichuk said her self-imposed salary freeze has saved taxpayers around $2,300. And her office has come in under budget for the last two years, she said.
“The simple fact is that I have saved an enormous amount of money in this office,” she said. “The first year, it was close to $70,000, and (for 2012), I think it’s over $70,000 again.”
When asked if she made the right decision in hiring a lawyer, Matichuk didn’t hesitate – “absolutely,” she said. But she was less certain when asked if she would make the same decision next time.
“It was my first time through this process, so it would depend on the circumstances,” she said.
“So I don’t know. When you’re dealing with personnel issues, I think it’s a wise choice to have a witness there. You have to make a judgement call. And I based mine on experience, business practices and the integrity of the person involved.”
And if there’s another investigation by the ombudsman, Matichuk said the ombudsman’s team won’t get any objections from her.
“I would fully co-operate with the ombudsman again,” she said. “I have no problem with that. I’m not going to hide anything.
“We could have someone out there who makes a complaint because they don’t like the colour of the door. You don’t know. But whatever happens, happens. You do the best you can. You follow the Municipal Act and move on.”