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Greater Sudbury councilor hires reputable Toronto lawyer

Michael Vagnini Defends Himself Against City Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze

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At next week’s council meeting, Michael Lacy, a star Toronto lawyer who recently represented Melissa Sheridan and previously Gerry Lougheed Jr.; will face Robert Swayze, Integrity Commissioner for the City of Greater Sudbury.

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Lacy was retained earlier this year by Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini, accused of violating several sections of the Code of Conduct. He faces a salary suspension of up to 40 days, per Swayze’s recommendation, which will be presented to the board on Tuesday.

In a May report due to be presented to the board in June, Swayze recommended that Vagnini’s salary be suspended after he allegedly violated the code of conduct on at least two occasions. The first violation related to remarks made during a meeting of the Finance Committee in January. Vagnini said he does not believe the staff regarding the deaths and violence among the homeless population.

Vagnini is also accused of disrespecting and insulting Jesse Oshell, the city’s deputy fire chief, while trying to arrange the funeral of local sports legend Franco Apolloni, who was also a volunteer firefighter. at the Copper Cliff Fire Station for 25 years. Apolloni, 86, died on January 20.

The June presentation was delayed at the request of Swayze, after being informed of a possible new violation.

“The postponement was requested because the CAO/complainant informed me of a phone call made by the advisor. Vagnini to Oshell on June 20, which he said was an attempt “to compel Deputy Oshell to make or accept a statement that minimizes the effect of the offense described in your last report,” Swayze wrote in a new report dated July 25. , which is due to be presented to council next week.

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Lacy and Swayze, both lawyers, exchanged a series of correspondences. In several emails, Lacy describes his response to Swayze regarding three complaints filed against Vagnini (a third complaint, that Vagnini threatened the life of Ward 11 Councilman Bill Leduc, was found to be unsubstantiated following a police investigation conducted by the North Bay Police Department).

Lacy provided The Star with a 79-page document on Brauti Thorning LLP letterhead that details his dealings with the Integrity Commissioner.

On July 11, Lacy accuses Swayze of prejudging the situation.

“I don’t understand how you could start preparing a supplemental report when you haven’t even received our submissions,” Lacy wrote. “Furthermore, I do not understand how you would commit to finalizing your report by Friday when you have not had the opportunity to review our response. Your commitment to do so and your communications with me give the impression that you have already prejudged this question and that any answer we might have to the last allegation is simply an inconvenience to be summarily dispensed with.

Significant parts of the lengthy document are procedural; for example, Lacy argues that Swayze could not accept a complaint from CAO Ed Archer for various legal reasons; however, he contradicts the claims made by Archer, on behalf of Oshell; as well as Leduc, who emailed Swayze in January.

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“I invite you to review our finance committee meeting on January 18, which supports my application as an advisor. Vagnini on using the media to (make) false claims about deaths in our Memorial Park homeless community,” Leduc wrote. “To be completely honest with you, I don’t know how many codes he’s broken here, but I’m sure you can help me.”

Lacy argues that as an elected official, Vagnini has a duty to question.

“Although city councilors do not enjoy parliamentary privilege, they must have great flexibility, as elected representatives, to express their opinions (even unpopular ones) at council meetings. Alleged breaches of the code of conduct for making public statements at council meetings could have a significant chilling effect on councilors’ ability to speak freely and openly,” Lacy wrote.

“It’s the job of councilors to challenge city staff and bring the concerns of their constituents and the wider community to the attention of fellow council members and city employees.”

Despite Vagnini’s discomfort with difficult staff, Lacy says that’s standard fare around council tables.

“City staff should expect to be questioned and to justify the information presented to councillors. It is partly for this reason that they are invited to committee meetings. This is no different than a board asking pointed and direct questions of a company’s management staff,” Lacy wrote. “It might be difficult. It can be unpleasant and uncomfortable. But engaging in the kind of exchanges that Mr. Vagnini made, (does not amount to) a violation of the Code.

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Lacy also accuses Swayze of failing to exercise due diligence. While Lacy points out that it appears Swayze consulted the media about Vagnini’s comments at the finance meeting, based on his report, it appears he did not actually watch the video, which is online. since January on Vagnini’s YouTube channel.

“Your report also fails to recognize the distinction between Mr. Vagnini’s comments about what was happening in the makeshift tent city created by homeless people and what was happening in the shelters. When staff were asked about what Coun. Vagnini had heard of people being injured and/or dying in the homeless community, staff members reported that they had no record of such a thing happening at shelters,” Lacy noted.

“The adviser’s exasperated comment that he ‘couldn’t believe’ what he was hearing was linked to the cautious and unresponsive response provided by staff, who did not address the issue of what was going on in the tents. As the committee meeting makes clear, it later emerged that the staff did not keep records of what was going on in the tent city, either formally or informally.

Lacy also maintains that Vagnini did nothing wrong in two conversations with Oshell. Although his use of profanity was “unfortunate” on the first call, it did not constitute harassment or abuse.

“On a follow-up call, Mr. Vagnini again requested that a fire truck be provided. The deputy refused, indicating that because of the extreme cold, he did not want to risk the water freezing. Mr. Vagnini’s recollection is that he was requesting a vehicle escort instead of having the fire engine sit in front of the funeral home,” Lacy wrote.

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“In parenthesis, I would note that it seems odd that there is a problem with water freezing in a fire service vehicle, in light of the way these trucks are designed. But, in any event, Mr. Vagnini admits having been offended by the refusal to provide the vehicle. He didn’t think the reason given was compelling and he couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t be made easier for Mr. Apolloni’s funeral.

While Vagnini admits to swearing, Lacy notes that his words weren’t aimed at Oshell.

“It was situationally directed. Using words like “bulls**t”, “don’t tell me that shit”, or even using the word f**k, while not particularly sophisticated, is part of Mr. Vagnini uses from time to time,” Lacy wrote. “That kind of outspokenness under the circumstances was obviously offensive to Deputy Oshell. But, as the deputy notes, once my client expressed his frustration, he also apologized for his poor choice of words. From his perspective, the affair was over and they parted ways on cordial terms.

On the second call, Vagnini’s partner, Janie, was present. They were staying at a lodge to attend a wedding. During her call with Oshell, Vagnini used the speakerphone feature, allowing Janie to hear the entire conversation.

“The conversation ended with Jessie wishing us a lovely evening at the wedding,” Janie told Lacy. “When Michael was on the phone, I said that no matter how nice this conversation was, it was going to be manipulated and turned into something negative. Apparently I was right. This conversation between Michael and Jessie was very positive and focused primarily on little Jackson (a four-year-old child who recently died of cancer.) Very little was said about anything else.

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According to Swayze, Oshell told his superiors that the second call with Vagnini had coercive and threatening overtones.

“Assuming you will once again move forward to consider the merits of Deputy Oshell’s email narrative as if he (as opposed to the city) had sued Coun. Vagnini, we disagree with the account of the phone conversation he offered,” Lacy wrote on July 11. “In any event, there is no basis to conclude that the interaction (even if it was as described by MP Oshell) constituted part of the Code of Conduct.

In one of his final emails to the Integrity Commissioner, Lacy accuses Swayze of employing poor analytical skills to answer the charges against Vagnini.

“Regarding your alleged analysis, this amounts to no analysis at all. Even accepting the narrative offered by Deputy Oshell about the recent phone call, at no point does he characterize it as reprimanding and/or disrespectful,” Lacy wrote. “Your conclusion is otherwise unreasonable.”

The Council meets Tuesday at 2 p.m. in Tom Davies Square. Lacy is expected to attend with Vagnini. The public is invited to watch in person or via live stream at tinyurl.com/4dtn3b3y.

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Twitter: @marykkeown
Facebook: @mkkeown

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