In the face of heckling from dozens of angry residents Tuesday night, Sudbury city council re-affirmed its decision to fire the Ontario Ombudsman — but not before some councillors changed their minds on the controversial closed-door meeting investigator.
The confrontation between politicians and the public was a face-to-face version of what's been happening on the phone and by email since council first voted on the matter two weeks ago.
City councillor Fabio Belli wanted that decision undone.
"I'm fully responsible for my actions. I'm sorry, because at the end of the day it was a mistake that I made," he said.
Other councillors also changed their minds after initally voting to replace Ombudsman Andre Marin with investigators from a private firm.
"I wouldn't call it flip-flopping. I'd call it a rewind," Coun. Joe Cimino said. "I say we keep him in place and see where we go from here."
But the majority did call it flip-flopping and refused to do it. They voted 9-to-4 to dump the Ombudsman, who they repeatedly called "unprofessional."
Controversy ‘has got legs’
Mayor Marianne Matichuk once again supported the Ombudsman.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, she said she believes this will become an issue in the municipal election next fall.
"I think this has got legs. I think this is bigger actually than Elton John," she said, referring to a scandal that saw councillors jumping the queue and scooping up tickets for a concert held locally in March of 2008 by the famous musician.
"I've never seen that many people calling my office, emails. [I’ve] never seen that."
Belli, Cimino and Coun. Doug Craig were the three who changed their vote from two weeks ago and supported bringing back the Ombudsman.
Private firm Amberley Gavel is now the closed door meeting investigator for Greater Sudbury.
Coun, Jacques Barbeau, who voted to ditch Marin, spoke of the "abuse" he's been getting from residents and about how negative the community seems to have become.
"If you fell out of a freaking spaceship and you landed in Sudbury and you read one of the media, boy you'd want to get the hell out of here in a hurry," Barbeau said. "And that's not the true picture."
After the vote, dozens of people in the audience grumbled as they left the council chambers. One person shouted: "See you in 2014" as a reminder of the next municipal election race.