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Ward 5 councillor's combative responses to critics earns council rebuke

Combative councillor spars with integrity commissioner, but says he won’t do it again
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City council reprimanded Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan on Tuesday for “aggressive” responses to commenters on his Facebook page. (File)

While pointing out that he only gave as good as he got, Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan said Tuesday he regrets Facebook comments he made that put him in the cross hairs of the city’s integrity commissioner – and led councillors to approve a reprimand.

“That’s not me,” Kirwan said, responding to a question from Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini. “I’m sorry we have to go through this.”

“When someone calls you basically an idiot” they should expect a response in kind, he said. 

“It’s my Irish blood. I don’t turn the other cheek.”

The lengthy debate over Swayze’s report — in which he called for Kirwan be reprimanded — began angrily, but then switched to a discussion about how public figures should behave in the face of endless online attacks.

Vagnini pointed out he had been attacked online during Tuesday’s meeting for his flamboyant fashion sense, but has learned to let those comments pass.

“Are you sorry for what has transpired and the comments that were made?” he asked Kirwan.

“Of course!” Kirwan replied. “I don’t want to go through all this stress.”

Swayze said he investigated nine complaints about Kirwan, but dismissed all but two of them. But one complaint linked to 29 comments Kirwan made on his Valley East Facebook page, and Swayze included three in his report.

He read one where Kirwan attacked a local university professor, calling him a dinosaur, among other things.

“It is my respectful opinion that is not a comment that should be made by any city councillor,” Swayze said.

Kirwan fought to defer a decision on the reprimand, arguing some of the complaints dated to before Swayze was appointed, that one was from a group and not an individual, and that he hadn’t received copies of all the complaints.

“All I’m asking for is time to receive copy of the complaints the integrity commissioner has ... so I can respond to them,” Kirwan said. 

But Swayze said he didn’t have to provide Kirwan copies of complaints he dismissed.

“I have provided all the information to Councillor Kirwan that he is going to get,” he replied. “Council doesn’t have the power to order me to release these complaints.”

But Kirwan said he was a stickler for the rules, and questioned why there was a 60-day time limit in the code of conduct, but Swayze investigated comments made last year or earlier, well before the code of conduct was approved in February 2019.

“They don’t even qualify as code (of conduct) complaints,” he said.

But the deferral was defeated, with councillors saying they had no power to order Swayze to produce documents.

And in terms of timing, Swayze said he downloaded some of the comments from the Valley East page two weeks ago. Regardless of when they were made, they are online now and so he views them as current.

“These comments are continuing,” he said.

The discussion then turned to what people sign up for these days when they run for office. Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti said he had been accused of corruption by a commenter on Sudbury.com recently (the comment was moderated and removed), but decided to rise above it.

“It’s about how we respect people in general,” Signoretti said. “I’m Italian, so I have a hot temper, too.

“(But) we are held to a different standard ... How we handle those situations defines us. I choose to rise above it.”

Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo said approving the reprimand was a signal to all politicians that they are held to a higher standard than online critics. While Kirwan's comments may have been made last year, “they are still on Facebook today” and in that sense are current.

Jakubo said the reprimand doesn't carry any further penalty, and hold councillors to a standard they all agreed to.

“And quite frankly, we need to move on,” he said.

He was critical of the way Swayze's report was written, saying it was hard to follow and contained incorrect information. For example, he references a comment Kirwan made at a KED meeting, when it was actually a heated GSDC meeting. And Swayze talks at length about complaints he dismissed, making the narrative hard to follow.

Future reports need to be better, he said, and if there’s a reprimand, the report “should not contain ... information about complaints that were not investigated.”

“I made a mistake,” Swayze agreed, and promised future reports would be more clear.

“I have to admit I included too many complaints in my report,” he said, adding “I believe Councillor Kirwan has been a disruption to this community.”

Mayor Brian Bigger said Tuesday's debate showed not only what politicians face, but how hard it is to be an integrity commissioner.

“Coun. Kirwan has shown us, and told us, that he’s changed his method of responding on Facebook,” Bigger said. “We’ve done a lot of work in this area — there definite is value in this conversation.”

He encouraged everyone to deal with public “with maturity, patience and respect. We’ve reaffirmed that here tonight.”

@darrenmacd




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