It’s anybody’s guess what the legal opinion will be on whether Mayor Shari Decter Hirst has breached conflict of interest legislation with regards to the Strand Theatre Project.
And there has been no shortage of speculation as to when the lawyer’s letter will arrive.
Follow this timeline:
• The Sun breaks the news on May 17 that there was a directive from the clerk’s department to seek clarification as to whether the mayor is in a conflict of interest over her ownership of land across the street from the proposed Strand project, which she supports.
“We wanted some legal advice with respect to whether Her Worship was in fact, as head of council and a board member of Renaissance Brandon, in a conflict of interest position because she did not remove herself from meetings that involved the Strand project,” said deputy city clerk Heather Ewasiuk. “Also, through her role as mayor, what her responsibilities are with pursuant to the Municipal Council Conflicts of Interest Act.”
Brandon city clerk Con Arvisais had previously told the Sun no conflict existed.
Decter Hirst’s husband, Dr. Derry Decter, is the treasurer with the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society, the group that is behind the Strand Project. The couple also owns property across from the Strand building, specifically 126 10th St., according to Decter Hirst’s filed declaration of assets at Brandon City Hall.
Ewasiuk said on May 17 she didn’t know how long it would take for legal counsel to release its findings to council.
“They appreciate there is some urgency to this, and that this is something that’s hanging over that we’d like to get cleared up one way or the other,” Ewasiuk said. “We are hoping in the next couple of days, but I don’t have any specific timeline.”
Decter Hirst said she wanted this issue to be cleared up as soon as possible and that she would make the lawyer’s findings public.
• On May 18, an overeager local media outlet states the legal opinion could be delivered “as early as this afternoon.” Yeah. That didn’t happen.
•The following Wednesday, May 23, Ewasiuk tells the Sun the legal opinion is not expected before the end of last week.
• On May 25, we’re told the opinion won’t arrive before this past Monday.
• On Monday, city clerk Arvisais said the opinion will take longer to complete, as more research is required.
“There’s no prediction as to when this will be completed,” Arvisais said.
We appreciate the lawyer — or lawyers? — taking time to offer a full and complete opinion on what could be a matter that has some very serious repercussions not only for the mayor, but for how the Renaissance Brandon downtown development agency operates.
Most of the Renaissance Brandon board members own property downtown — they are correctly there because they have skin in the game, so to speak — and that includes city Coun. Corey Roberts (Rosser).
But even given the high importance of the matter, we really don’t understand how the legal opinion has taken so long — eight business days as of yesterday.
As Ewasiuk said: “... there is some urgency to this.”
It’s getting to the point of becoming cruel and unusual punishment for Decter Hirst, whose reputation and political career is potentially at stake.
We also hear that some initiatives involving downtown are on hold until the opinion is received.
For the record, the city states that seeking clarification tends to come up “once or twice each term,” on various issues involving Brandon’s municipal elected officials.
If Decter Hirst is found to be in conflict of interest, city council could ask the Court of Queen’s Bench to make a ruling on the matter.
The ultimate penalty, if found guilty, would be her being forced from office. There is, indeed, some urgency in receiving the lawyer’s letter.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 30, 2012