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Private meeting probe almost complete

By the time regular meetings resume next month, city councillors should know the results of the first investigation of a complaint by its new private-meetings investigator.
Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin addresses city council in December, two months before councillors fired him as their private meetings investigator. And investigation into that decision should be complete next month. File photo.
By the time regular meetings resume next month, city councillors should know the results of the first investigation of a complaint by its new private-meetings investigator.

Staff at Local Authority Services said Friday the report will be ready by the Sept. 10 city council meeting. They declined to say what the investigation uncovered, because results must first go to the municipality, who will release it to the public.

That's the same procedure followed by Ontario Ombudsman André Marin, who was fired as Sudbury's private meetings investigator in February. Not only is this the first investigation since then, the complaint is related to the decision to replace him.

In a move that shocked many people, councillors voted Feb. 12 to get rid of Marin, in a motion initially supported by everyone except Mayor Marianne Matichuk. Councillors Joe Cimino, Fabio Belli and Doug Craig changed their vote two weeks later when the motion had to be ratified, but it wasn't enough to reverse the decision.

Marin received several complaints that councillors had met improperly beforehand to decide to fire him, but he refused to do any more investigations, citing a long and deteriorating relationship with Sudbury council.

The problems date back to the ombudsman's 2008 investigation of the Elton John ticket scandal. In that case, councillors were allowed to buy tickets for John's show before they went on sale to the public. There was huge demand for the remaining tickets, which sold as soon as they went on sale. When it emerged councillors had access before anyone else, the public outcry led them to eventually return 71 of the 120 tickets they had purchased.

Marin, who had just gained oversight of municipal councils, investigated complaints council improperly met in private to determine whether to return the tickets. In a high-profile report entitled, “Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me,” Marin cleared council of wrongdoing, but publicly chastised them and wrote they had come very close to breaking the rules.

The relationship took another turn for the worse in spring 2012, when most councillors refused to co-operate with another investigation because Marin refused to let the city's solicitor be present during questioning. Only Craig and Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume met Marin's investigators on their own. Matichuk and city clerk Caroline Hallsworth brought their own lawyers, whose fees were paid for by taxpayers.

Council was cleared again of wrongdoing, but Marin labelled them as the least co-operative council he had ever dealt with and threatened fines or jail if they refused to co-operate in future.

A December 2012 visit to Sudbury aimed at mending fences only made matters worse, and led to a nasty exchange between Marin and city solicitor Jamie Canapini, in which Marin accused Canapini of giving councillors “bad legal advice.”

That led to the dramatic decision in February to fire Marin and replace him with LAS, a branch of AMO that contracts investigations to Amberley Gavel, a London-based law firm. Of the 444 municipalities in Ontario, LAS is the closed-door investigator for 130, compared to 190 who use the ombudsman. The remaining towns and cities use other private firms.

After Marin refused to investigate the complaints over the way he was fired, Amberley Gavel agreed in April to look into the matter.

“We’ll be investigating six complaints that meetings may have taken place, and we’ll be investigating that in the very near future,” said Nigel Bellchamber, one of the principals of Amberley Gavel, in an April interview. “Those are alleged meetings, as opposed to specific meetings. That’s what we’ll be investigating – whether or not a meeting or meetings took place.”

Bellchamber and former Sudbury City Solicitor Fred Dean are the principals at Amberley Gavel. Since he has connections with Sudbury, Dean won’t be take part in the investigation, Bellchamber said.

“Fred is not involved in this file.”


Darren MacDonald

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