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Vagnini accused of threatening deputy fire chief

In his latest report to city council, integrity commissioner Robert Swayze outlines an allegation Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini threatened a fire department deputy chief by saying recognizing his apology would be ‘in (the deputy chief’s) best interests’

Accused of threatening a fire department deputy chief, another alleged breach of the city’s code of conduct has been added to the pile against Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini.

The latest accusation is outlined in a report by city integrity commissioner Robert Swayze, in which Vagnini is alleged to have used threatening language in correspondence with deputy chief Jesse Oshell. 

City council will vote Aug. 9 on whether to approve Swayze’s recommendation that Vagnini be suspended for a period of 40 days commencing with the next pay period.

In Swayze’s report, Oshell outlines the contents of a 15-minute phone conversation he had with Vagnini in which Oshell said, “The councillor suggested that in the best interest of fire services and in my best interests, I could recognize that he apologized to me and that we were amicable so that my claim with the integrity commissioner could be withdrawn. It would help with his position on council or if he chose to run for mayor.”

On May 2, Vagnini registered to seek re-election in Ward 2 in the Oct. 24 municipal election.

The conversation between Oshell and Vagnini took place on June 20, around the time Vagnini would have received Swayze’s initial report on the councillor’s alleged breaches of the city’s code of conduct.

One of the two complaints under consideration in this initial report was filed by city CAO Ed Archer on behalf of Oshell after Vagnini was accused of employing “vulgar and disrespectful behaviour” in correspondence with the deputy chief. 

Vagnini had asked for the department to supply a fire truck and other bunker gear for the funeral of a former volunteer firefighter who was a friend of his, according to Swayze’s initial report.

“The Deputy Chief of the department politely refused to supply the apparatus to the funeral home because of the extreme cold and the risk of damage to the equipment,” according to the report, which it’s alleged Vagnini responded to with the following comments over the phone:

  • “This is bull***t ***. Don’t play that f***ing game with me.”
  • “F*** off, I can’t believe you won’t do this.”
  • “Don’t try to tell me this s***.”

Swayze’s initial report notes Vagnini apologized to Oshell “apparently on legal advice.”

Vagnini’s June 20 phone call with Oshell resulted in Swayze asking city council to defer judgment on the matter so he could draft a follow-up report on the phone call for consideration. In his now-completed report, Swayze contends the phone call included an implied threat when Vagnini said it would be in Oshell’s “best interests” to accept his apology as amicable.

In Swayze’s report, Oshell also calls to question communication from Vagnini’s lawyer, Michael Lacy. 

“Much of the communication from Mr. Lacy is a reflection that an apology to me has occurred, that was accepted, and that this in some way absolves the councillor of his actions and repercussions,” Oshell said in the report. “This troubles me as an employee with a justifiable complaint. You may recall that I received the apology after the councillor was told by Mr. Lacy it would be best to do so, as the councillor noted to me when it occurred. This was not an unsolicited apology.”

Regardless, Oshell said he has accepted the apology, and as part of his duties would continue to work professionally with the councillor as required. 

In his report, Swazye notes he submitted the first draft of his updated report to Vagnini on July 15 and received the councillor’s response on July 25.

In his response to Swayze, Vagnini contended the CAO may not file a complaint because he is complaining on behalf of the municipality – a sentiment Swazye disagrees with.

Vagnini also maintained his phone conversation with Oshell was not in any way contentious or disrespectful.

“I am of the opinion that it attempted to use his influence as a councillor to make (Oshell) accept the apology and withdraw the complaint filed by the CAO,” Swazye said in his report, adding that he agrees with Archer’s sentiment Vagnini’s apology does not “absolve the councillor of his actions and repercussions.”

The other complaint against Vagnini, which remains unchanged from Swayze’s initial report filed in June, has to do with various points of alleged misinformation the councillor shared about the city’s homeless community earlier this year in a video posted to YouTube.

City staff refuted every one of the key points presented in the video, and Vagnini stuck to his guns in disbelief of what city staff told him, and the video remains online.

In response to Vagnini’s alleged misinformation and an inaccurate belief he, as a member of the police board, was unable to phone 911, city council voted 9-2 to remove him from the police board in February.

A decisive vote of 8-2 reaffirmed this directive in April, when city council shot down Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier’s motion for staff to initiate a third-party investigation of the allegations made against Vagnini.

Sudbury.com reached out to Vagnini by phone and email for comment on this story but has so far received no response.

The Aug. 9 city council meeting will begin at 2 p.m. People can either attend the meeting in-person at Tom Davies Square or view it virtually by clicking here

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.