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Vagnini faces penalties for ‘vulgar and disrespectful’ behaviour

City integrity commissioner Robert Swayze has recommended a 40-day pay suspension for Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini, which city council will vote on next week
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Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini.

For being “vulgar and disrespectful to his work associates,” city integrity commissioner Robert Swayze said that Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini should face a 40-day pay suspension.

“It is important that this member of council be penalized in a meaningful way so that he changes his behaviour,” Swayze wrote in a report to city council, adding that a repeat of this conduct will result in a recommended maximum suspension of 90 days’ salary.

City council will vote on Swayze’s recommendation during their June 28 meeting.

“I think it’s very adequate, maybe not enough,” Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc said of the 40-day pay suspension, adding that he’s confident city council will uphold Swayze’s recommendation.

Leduc filed two of the three complaints submitted against Vagnini, although one of these complaints – No. 2 – was dismissed. 

Complaint No. 2 centred around Leduc’s accusation that Vagnini threatened his life over the phone following a city council meeting in January.

Vagnini “categorically” denied the accusation, and a subsequent investigation by the North Bay Police Service determined there were “insufficient grounds” to proceed with charges.

Swayze rejected the complaint in part due to his not being informed of the actual words spoken during the phone conversation until after the 60-day limitation on filing complaints had passed.

Leduc said the delay was due to Swayze putting the investigation on pause while the accusation was being investigated by police, though Swayze also cites the fact “no corroborating evidence” was submitted to substantiate the alleged threat and that no charges were laid as reasons. 

Complaint No. 1, which Swayze accepted and was also filed by Leduc, centred around a video Vagnini posted to YouTube and his handling of the backlash he faced as a result.

Posted to YouTube on Jan. 15, the video features Vagnini, now-mayoral candidate Bob Johnston and a homeless man who went by the name “Roger.” In the video, they claim:

  • Two frozen bodies were pulled out of downtown tents two to three weeks previous.
  • A woman froze to death in a tent outside of Tom Davies Square the previous Thursday.
  • There was a recent double stabbing at a shelter in the city.
  • The city has been evicting people from their tents. 
  • There’s $300 million “sitting there” in a city bank ready to be used to aid in the city’s homelessness crisis. 

After being prompted by Leduc to clarify these points, city staff refuted every one of them during a subsequent finance and administration committee meeting. 

Vagnini remained defiant throughout the meeting and subsequent interviews, saying that he did not believe the information presented by staff.

In so doing, Vagnini broke two sections of the city’s Code of Conduct, according to Swayze:

  • 16 (2): “Every Member should refrain from making statements known to be false or with the intent to mislead Council or the Local Board as the case may be, or the public.”
  • 14 (2): “Every Member shall be respectful of the role of City officers and employees to provide professional service and advice based on political neutrality and objectivity,and without undue influence from any one or more Members.”

“In my opinion, suggesting publicly that staff lied and omitted or misrepresented facts is

beyond vigorous debate,” Swayze said in his report.

“The detail he presented in his video as quoted in the press, such as people ‘freezing to death’ would have been known by staff. I believe that any such information would have been provided to the meeting if it happened.”

Complaint No. 3 was filed by city CAO Ed Archer and has to do with Vagnini’s alleged disrespect of a Greater Sudbury Fire Services 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 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***.”

Vagnini reportedly apologized — “apparently on legal advice,” the report states — to the staff member by email. Swayze’s report also notes Vagnini contravened the Code of Conduct as follows:

  • 15 (1) “Every Member shall:
    • treat other Members, City officers and employees, and members of the public, appropriately, and without abuse, intimidation, harassment or violence; and
    • make all reasonable efforts to ensure that their work environment is free from discrimination, harassment and violence.
    • (2) Every Member shall act in compliance with the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and where applicable, the City's Workplace Violence, Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Policy and Program.

Although Leduc said that he believes Vagnini should have received the full 90-day pay suspension, it’s positive to see some action being taken. 

“It just goes to speak to Coun. Vagnini’s character that needs to be brought forward to the public to show his true character,” he said, adding that it’s incumbent on his colleagues to heed Swayze’s recommendation.

“We have as council kind of turned a blind eye on other situations, which maybe have set the tone for the councillors that if they go to the integrity commissioner it’s a slap on the hand.”

In his report, Swayze notes that he had already served an excerpt of his report to city council and that as a result of that dialogue reduced his recommendation for salary suspension.

“It is clear to me that the first and third complaints result from inappropriate behaviour towards staff and a fellow councillor contrary to the code and this must stop.”

This isn’t the first time in recent months that Vagnini has faced backlash for his behaviour.

In February, a 9-2 vote of city council passed to remove Vagnini from the Greater Sudbury Police Services Board, in part due to Vagnini neglecting to phone 911 after witnessing a situation in Memorial Park in which he said a woman “ran for her life.” 

Some people around council chambers believed the situation warranted an emergency response. Vagnini claimed that he was not allowed to phone 911 due to his position on the police board, which a police spokesperson affirmed was not true. This, and his alleged spreading of misinformation about the city’s homeless community, also factored into Vagnini’s removal from the board.

Although Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier decried Vagnini’s removal from the police board as an “unwarranted attack on his character,” and attempted to pass a motion for staff to initiate a third-party investigation, a decisive 8-2 vote of city council shot his motion down.

In the midst of all this activity, Vagnini declined media interviews and abstained from various votes of city council without explanation beyond “personal and legal reasons,” and despite the fact that abstainations are recorded as “no.” 

Sudbury.com reached out to Vagnini by phone and email for comment on this story but did not receive an immediate response.

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