The future of Russ Wyatt at Winnipeg City Hall is unclear Wednesday after police arrested and charged the Transcona councillor with sexual assault.
Mayor Brian Bowman said he learned about the alleged incident the same time many members of the public did. He said he was shocked.
“A criminal sexual assault charge is very, very serious so I — like many people at city hall and in the community — am trying to process it,” Bowman said.
“Just on its face value, even before it is heard by a court of law, it can represent a significant breach of trust.”
But the sexual assault charge doesn’t mean Wyatt’s political career is in immediate jeopardy.
There is nothing in the City of Winnipeg Charter that would make him forfeit his council seat and, barring a criminal conviction of more than 5 years in prison, Wyatt is actually eligible to run for re-election in October.
The councillor, who was elected in 2002, would lose his seat if he missed three consecutive council meetings. But thanks to the upcoming summer recess, chances are the only unexcused absence he could have until the election would be next week.
Three councillors told Global News on Wednesday that things could get complicated if someone expresses concern about meeting with the Transcona councillor or files an official complaint against Wyatt.
According to a City statement, if “at any time, if a member of the City Administration feels uncomfortable accepting a meeting with an elected official, it would be incumbent upon them to raise their concerns with their supervisor or Manager.”
If Wyatt simply does not run for re-election in October and steps away from politics to deal with these charges, he could be eligible for the severance transition allowance that councillors receive when they step down or when they are defeated at the polls. In Wyatt’s case, he would pocket about $45,000 for 16 years of service.
It is not clear if he would receive that severance if he is found guilty and convicted.
On Wednesday, Bowman would not answer whether he would welcome Wyatt back to city hall if he is cleared.
“This matter is now before the court of law,” Bowman said. “There’s an independent process and we’ll obviously respect that process moving forward.”
Allegations against Russ Wyatt must be proven in court. He is presumed innocent.