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Mayor on firefighter controversy: 'We'll get there'

Bigger makes another public statement following closed-door meeting Tuesday 
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Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger has issued a second public statement in an attempt to address concerns about the dismissal of three volunteer firefighters and the discipline received by another eight. (File)

Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger has issued a second public statement in an attempt to address concerns about the dismissal of three volunteer firefighters and the discipline received by another eight.

The 11 were sanctioned for violating city policy regarding speaking publicly on city policies. The Ontario Volunteer Firefighters Association, CLAC Local 920, which represents volunteer firefighters, has said it will fight to get their member's jobs back. The issue centres on the now abandoned proposal to optimize fire response times by reducing reliance on volunteers and hiring dozens more full-time firefighters. 

Earlier this week, Bigger issued a statement that said he couldn't comment on what was discussed at a closed-door city council meeting Tuesday. That meeting was held to allow councillors to question Fire Chief Trevor Bain on why the volunteers were fired or disciplined. Bain is preparing a report on the issue in time for another closed-door meeting later this month.

In his statement Thursday, Bigger addressed the controversy. 

“I understand that many of you are concerned about the disciplinary action taken by the City of Greater Sudbury in the Community Safety department,” Bigger said in the statement. “I want you to know that I hear you. And council has heard you. 

“Public safety is incredibly important to this council, and that includes making sure that we resolve issues and provide opportunities for our fire services to succeed. It also means, however, that when there are discussions relating to individual employment situations, that we not share that with the public.”

Just as they wouldn't want their job performance discussed in public, Bigger said council keeps these discussions private, as they are required to do by law.

“I would ask residents to consider whether you would like the nature of your employment shared with the rest of the community?”

Bigger did say, however, that the firings were a decision of city management, not by council. Councillors do not get involved in individual staff management.

“We were made aware of this situation after it had been undertaken,” the mayor said in the statement. “I want to assure you that as your mayor that I am working proactively with council on this issue with staff and I’ve asked that staff and council reconvene on this with additional information next Wednesday. 

“I want to thank the community for your patience, while we go through what seems like a long process to many of you. We’ll get there.”