Sudbury city manager warned councillor Vagnini about harassing fire chief

Internal city emails show Greater Sudbury's top bureaucrat was concerned that city councillors were harassing the former fire chief. The emails obtained through freedom of information laws are from before the allegations became public, but months after the initial complaint.

Two city councillors are currently being investigated for workplace harassment

Ward 2 Sudbury city councillor Michael Vagnini (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Internal city emails show Greater Sudbury's top bureaucrat was concerned that city councillors were harassing the former fire chief.

The emails obtained through freedom of information laws are from before the allegations became public in October, but months after the initial complaint in the spring.

The Sudbury Professional Firefighters Association complained to the city in spring 2017 that fire chief Trevor Bain was being harassed by city councillors and other city employees over the controversial optimization plan proposed to overhaul Sudbury's fire department.

The Ministry of Labour has said that complaint was not properly looked into and in October ordered the city to conduct a full investigation, as required by workplace harassment laws, shortly after Bain was fired.

But before that, in early September, Greater Sudbury chief administrative officer Ed Archer wrote to city councillor Michael Vagnini about some Facebook posts that he wrote and others that he endorsed by clicking like.

Ed Archer is the chief administrative officer of the City of Greater Sudbury. (CBC)

"Some of these comments include opinions about Trevor and fire management staff that appear contrary to our workplace harassment policy," Archer wrote.

"We should not share or comment positively on social media posts that include remarks that may be contrary to our workplace harassment policy."

Vagnini and Archer exchange several e-mails back and forth, with both explaining their good intentions to work well with the other.

"As for the 'like," Vagnini wrote to Archer, "I had a few administrators for my Facebook, as I don't do social media well (God knows I get enough)... the purpose was to share things well (sic) I'm on the road. One is over zealous, they have been cut off access."

In an interview with CBC, Vagnini explained that the administrator was not posting for him on the Facebook page, but had access to it and may have been the one to like the controversial Facebook post. 

But Vagnini also admitted that he might have clicked like "late at night, after a meeting."

He says either way the like has been removed.

'Strongly disagree'

Archer also took exception to a column Vagnini wrote in the Sudbury Star on Oct. 4 where he suggests that city staff were presenting "erroneous data" at public meetings on the fire optimization plan.

"You expressed the idea that my staff intentionally misled attendees at a community meeting. The basis for your statement appears to be an opinion that my staff could have no other reason for the responses provided to questions raised at the meeting," Archer wrote to the city councillor.

"Considering our recent discussions about public comments regarding staff performance and our workplace harassment policy, I was surprised to see your column."

"I strongly disagree with the opinion that my staff intentionally misled anyone or were motivated to do so. If there is information that informs such an opinion, please share it with me."

This email from Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger to city councillor Michael Vagnini was redacted because it contains advice, which can be protected under freedom of information laws. (Supplied)

Archer also wrote to Mayor Brian Bigger about Vagnini's column, telling him he was "surprised that a councillor would say such things about staff, much less in writing as a public record."

Vagnini also wrote to Mayor Bigger asking him for advice on how to deal with Archer. Bigger did provide some advice, but exactly what he wrote was redacted by city staff, who argue that information is protected under the section of the freedom of information law pertaining to "advice and recommendations."

In an interview about the emails, Vagnini says they merely outline a misunderstanding between himself and Archer that has since been cleared up.

"I think there was some misinterpretation," Vagnini says.

Archer declined to comment on the emails, saying that they "speak for themselves."

Kris Volpel is the president of the Sudbury Professional Firefighters Association. (Erik White/CBC )

Full-time firefighter union president Kris Volpel, who filed the original complaint, says the emails show he wasn't the only one who felt Vagnini crossed a line while commenting on the fire optimization plan.

"It would appear there are others within the corporation that have shared the same concerns that I have had," says Volpel.

"It would seem as though that it was an ongoing discussion. Obviously the discussions or the means of trying to address the concerns didn't satisfy the Ministry of Labour."

Volpel declined to comment on the ongoing investigation into whether or not Vagnini, city councillor Gerry Montpellier or a handful of other city employees violated the province's workplace harassment laws.

A third party investigator hired by the city has until March to report back to the Ministry of Labour.