Vagnini should stay at the table … or find the door

Councillor Michael Vagnini abandoned another meeting earlier this month. When will he realize this inappropriate behaviour is hurting the constituents of Ward 2?

Picture this: you’re meeting with your financial advisor. He’s going on and on about aspects of your portfolio, but you booked the meeting to talk about something specific you would like done. When you remind him of this he slams his notebook on the table and stomps out of the room. 

Why, you might wonder, are you paying for his advice? Isn’t he supposed to be representing your interests? Anyway, who even does that?

It’s no less jarring when this happens at the City Council table. Our elected – and modestly paid – representatives can’t do their jobs unless they’re in their seats listening, voting, sharing glimmers of wisdom when possible, and at the very least not wandering away gratuitously from the topic at hand.

Being a city councillor, or any elected official for that matter, means hearing what you don’t want to hear. You follow rules and procedures you may not like. You stand up for your constituents interests even if they aren’t your interests.

But six years into his role, Ward 2 councillor Michael Vagnini is still maddeningly off-beat. How other councillors react to his often confusing and combative nature has left him convinced that he’s “up against a stone wall.” 

For someone so trapped, Vagnini never has a problem finding the door when something isn’t going his way. 

Gone in a flash of his sequin coat. 

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Ward 2 Councillor Michael Vagnini on the night of his acclaimation to his second term, with supporters at mayoral candidate Dan Melanson’s election night gathering – photo by John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

It happens far too often. His decision to quit a recent committee meeting reflects a pattern of behaviour. Abandoning or boycotting meetings damages Vagnini’s relationship with his colleagues, and weakens his ability to deliver for the residents of Ward 2.

Being wilful is not an unusual trait among Vagnini’s demographic cohort: (charitably) politicians. Yet, in a room full of them, all with their own agendas and deeply-held beliefs, none of the other councillors share Vagnini’s fondness for flight. 

Sitting out the entire budget process because his procedural motion failed may be worst example. This last incident, one which prompted a whiny diatribe to local media went basically like this: 

At the June 2nd meeting of the Finance and Administration committee, Vagnini was questioning Ed Stankiewicz, Executive Director of Finance, about aspects of his report on financial impacts of Covid-19. An unofficial transcript is available here: http://www.sudburypolitics.ca/another-vagnini-departure/  and the video is available here (from the 1:05 mark) https://livestream.com/greatersudbury/events/9158726/videos/206902604

Vagnini asked some highly specific questions that were (scarcely) on topic. Answers were provided. Before he had a chance to expound about the answers – to “make his point”, as he told the Star – Mayor Brian Bigger cut him off with a point of order. Anyone who knows about rules of order for meetings knows this is the right way to challenge an off-topic discussion.

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Screenshot from the June 2 Finance and Administration Meeting, with both Chair Mike Jakubo and Councillor Michael Vagnini speaking. Vagnini signed off the call seconds later.

Rushing to his own defense, Vagnini hurried to speak over Chair Mike Jakubo. Jakubo clearly knew Vagnini was technically in the right – that the questions he was asking were about (tangential) aspects included in the staff report. He proceeded to rule in Vagnini’s favour, and gave him back the floor to continue his questions. 

However this 65-second exchange was too much for Vagnini. Instead of making his all-important point, he chose to disconnect from the meeting. He missed another two hours of discussion and consideration of important topics from a $4.1M investment in road construction to voting on the Covid-19 financial response plan. 

Maybe my neighbors in Lively don’t care about that. Maybe they agree with Vagnini that the institution of Council isn’t worth his time, and that sitting out three weeks of budget deliberations which determine the course of the City’s operations is acceptable. 

I think fewer would agree if they saw firsthand his churlish behaviour and dismissiveness in the face of his council colleagues. We in Ward 2 count on our councillor and his relationship with the 12 others around the table to champion our needs. Vagnini is making this more difficult every time he grabs his glove and slouches off the field. 

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In this photo supplied to the Sudbury Star, Ward 2 Councillor Michael Vagnini plows the road in front of the Copper Cliff post office.

Michael Vagnini is often praised for going rogue – taking the shovel in his own hands. He takes on laudable projects, and works hard on them. He is a solid community-minded volunteer, but his council role is at the council table. 

If he can’t stay at the table, maybe it’s time to find the door?

By Richard Eberhardt

Richard worked his first campaign way back in 1995, and since then has never been able to shake 'the bug'. From student politics, union politics, to electoral politics, he has always found a way to make his day-job political - especially when running the local MPs office from 08-14. Lately he's moved from environmental politics and his role as Communications Director and head of government relations for Green Economy Canada to labour organizing. Richard is now a Union Representative for the largest private sector union local in Canada, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 175.