An allegation that Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst was provoked into uttering a threat to Coun. Stephen Montague after she was targeted with a derogatory remark from Montague has been flatly denied by the Richmond ward representative.
"Absolutely not," Montague said. "The audio (recording from the council meeting) speaks for itself. It’s not there and I would absolutely not say that."
The Brandon Sun has chosen in the interest of good taste not to print the alleged comment.
"At minimum, this is a malicious allegation. That’s ridiculous that would try to be blamed as the reason," Montague said. "To come out after the fact, that might simply to be making excuses for what I deem to be inappropriate behaviour."
Following Monday’s city council meeting, where Decter Hirst reminded Montague of the protocol to direct his comments and questions to a podium speaker through her, she charged to his chair.
"Stephen, if you ever show disregard with that microphone on again, I will slap you on the back of the head so hard your head will spin," Decter Hirst said angrily.
Decter Hirst was asked on Wednesday in her city hall office to respond to the comments she made and the allegation against Montague. She declined comment, stating it was a personal matter.
Other sources told the Brandon Sun they never heard Montague say the alleged comment at that meeting.
"I didn’t hear that," said Coun. Jeff Harwood (University), whose chair is directly beside Montague’s at the council table. "Certainly that came as an absolute shock at the end of that meeting. Just all of a sudden, bang. As for the comment allegedly uttered to Her Worship, I have no knowledge of that at all."
Harwood said when Decter Hirst approached Montague and began the altercation, the situation was tense.
"I just got my stuff together and made some space," Harwood said. "If the word was uttered, I certainly didn’t hear it and I had a front-row seat."
Harwood said the situation has complicated relationships on the 11-member city council and that the issue will need to be addressed if the business of council is to move forward in an orderly manner.
"Whatever is happening, they have to iron this out because it’s going to be hard if they don’t," he said. "The two of them just have to sit down and iron out how they are going to get along, co-exist, whatever you want to call it, for the next two years. We all have to work as a unit and it’s tough on all of us. This is a distraction we don’t need."
Harwood said it’s well known that Montague and Decter Hirst do not get along, but in his 12 years on city council, he has never seen a situation where one member of council threatened another inside the council chamber. He added there needs to be decorum and "a huge measure of civility inside that chamber," for the sake of city council.
"There has been verbal sparring between a mayor and some councils," Harwood said. "You hear that, but never this kind of an altercation. Not at all. Monday night’s display, I’ve never witnessed that. Ever. I would hope that common sense and some decorum will prevail after this because it was really awkward when that happened, for those of us that were close by. It was terribly awkward."
Since the exchange, Montague has publicly apologized for his protocol breach, both through comments to the Brandon Sun and the CBC Manitoba noon hour radio show.
"If I did make a procedural mistake, I have apologized for that," Montague said. "We all make mistakes and I’ll own up to the fact I did not go through the chair on my followup question. We are human. I’ve owned up to mine and offered my apology to Her Worship for that faux pas as well as to the residents. I have yet to hear anything back."
He called on Decter Hirst to make her own apology in public, but said he didn’t expect to get one.
"I’d be surprised if I did, but a face-to-face apology would be preferred," Montague said. "The incident happened in the chamber, so it could happen there. We meet quite regularly. The comments were to me, and the saddest part to me in all of this is the citizens of Brandon that elected us to work on their behalf had to witness that.
"Civic leaders speaking in those tones and in those words, that’s not professional. It’s not leadership and it’s quite unfortunate that was the avenue that was taken."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 8, 2012