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Regina councillor Lori Bresciani likely violated ethics rules by weighing in on pickleball lease: expert

Emails show Coun. Lori Bresciani weighed in on lease negotiations between Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) and Queen City Pickleball, an organization she is a member of.  (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)
Emails show Coun. Lori Bresciani weighed in on lease negotiations between Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) and Queen City Pickleball, an organization she is a member of. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)

A Regina city councillor likely violated the city's code of ethics bylaw when she urged a municipal corporation to provide a cheaper lease rate to an organization she was a member of, according to an ethics expert.

Ward 4 Coun. Lori Bresciani says she was just doing her job by passing along concerns from a citizen.

Emails obtained by CBC News through a freedom of information request show that in 2023, Bresciani routinely advocated for Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) to extend its lease with Queen City Pickleball at the existing rate of $4 per square foot, rather than a proposed new rate of $10 per square foot.

Her emails to then-REAL CEO Tim Reid came after a series of emails to Bresciani from Queen City Pickleball's owner and president, Phillip Greenwood.

"I'm asking you to step forward and help me navigate what's now going on," wrote Greenwood in an email to Bresciani on Oct. 26, 2023.

Queen City Pickleball ultimately got its wish. A deal was reached where REAL's $4 lease rate was extended to the organization's expansion until at least the 2025 Canadian Western Agribition, according to the emails.

The councillor's actions likely violated Regina's code of ethics bylaw, said Ian Stedman, an assistant professor with York University's school of public policy and administration.

Stedman, an expert on public sector governance and ethics and accountability, said the details laid out in the documents show Bresciani putting herself in a conflict of interest.

Bresciani has confirmed she is a member of Queen City Pickleball and has spoken passionately about the sport at public council meetings.

Emails show that Greenwood informed Bresciani that, should the lease payments increase, it would mean the organization's "days in Regina would could to an end," leaving its 1,258 members without a place to play.

Read the emails CBC obtained via freedom of information request here (CBC has removed some contact information that was in the original document):

Stedman said that even if the organization did agree to pay the higher lease, it would likely pass those costs onto its members — and therefore Bresciani — through higher fees.

"Do I think it's the kind of conflict that would should lead us all to believe that the councillor is corrupt and can't be trusted? No," said Stedman.

"But I do think it's an important learning point here, that these small things add up over time, and if we're not attentive to these kind of small conflicts, what we end up doing is destroying, or at least damaging, the public's trust in our ability to do good work."

Stedman said even the perception that there is a conflict of interest can be damaging.

CBC has previously obtained Bresciani's public disclosure statement. Pickleball is not listed on the document.

'It's my job': Bresciani

Allegations that a councillor had inappropriately interfered in a lease negotiation between REAL and one of its tenants were first made public late last year by former REAL board chair Wayne Morsky.

In an open letter released after all of the board's voting members were dismissed by Regina city council, Morsky wrote alleged that council members had interfered in lease negotiations, asked for tickets to events for themselves, friends and family, and in one case asked for employment.

Wayne Morsky is the former board chair of the Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) and has published a letter alleging Regina councillors sought free tickets, interfered with lease talks
Wayne Morsky is the former board chair of the Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) and has published a letter alleging Regina councillors sought free tickets, interfered with lease talks

Wayne Morsky, the former board chair of the Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL), published a letter alleging that some Regina councillors had meddled with REAL business. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

A slate of councillors denied that those allegations were about them. That included Bresciani, who on Dec. 4 told CBC that she was not aware of any interference with tenants.

In an recent interview, where she was presented with the information obtained by CBC, Bresciani maintained that she had done nothing wrong.

"It's my job as a councillor to refer any e-mail that I get from a concerned resident, and that's what I did in this situation. I think it's important. I think it's valid," Bresciani said.

Greenwood declined to be interviewed for this story. Instead he provided limited answers over email.

"Councillor Bresciani did not take part in any of our negotiations with REAL. She was cc'd on emails along with Tim Reid as I didn't know who could give advice as to try to host Nationals," Greenwood wrote.

Emails show that the councillor did more than just forward along concerns. She issued warnings on how a rent increase might affect the City of Regina and REAL.

In January, Greenwood voiced concerns about potentially having to cancel the 2023 Pickleball National Championships in Regina due to the proposed rate increase.

"I think this would be embarrassing for our City especially since it has been advertised in Canada," wrote Bresciani in an email to Tim Reid dated April 9.

Later in the year she would email Tim Reid again, this time to say the plan to increase rent was unsustainable.

"We know businesses will fold or walk away as we have seen with other businesses within REAL," wrote Bresciani on Oct. 27.

'Admit there was a misstep': Stedman

In her recent interview, Bresciani stressed that she never issued a directive to Tim Reid and that her email was about finding a solution.

Stedman said no one should be fooled by that justification.

"I think that's the kind of answer you want to give to avoid the scrutiny," Stedman said.

"I think at the end of the day, the councillor is probably going to have to admit that there was a misstep, that she made a misstep, and she should be a little more alert to that perception in the future."

The nature of Greenwood's outreach to Bresciani seemed clear to Reid.

"Generally when [Greenwood] does not like the answer he receives from REAL he tends to direct his correspondence to you," Reid wrote to Bresciani on Oct. 27.

Regina Integrity Commissioner Angela Kruk says the lawsuit brought by Coun. Dan LeBlanc and Coun. Andrew Stevens reflected poorly on the city's government.
Regina Integrity Commissioner Angela Kruk says the lawsuit brought by Coun. Dan LeBlanc and Coun. Andrew Stevens reflected poorly on the city's government.

Regina Integrity Commissioner Angela Kruk says her investigations must be confidential. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

Any discipline Bresciani could face would have to come from her city council colleagues after an investigation by Angela Kruk, the city's integrity commissioner.

Kruk declined to comment on whether any complaints have been made against Bresciani.

In an email, Kruk said her investigations must be conducted in confidence. Any report that her office issues is made public.

If any councillor found to have violated a part of the code of conduct bylaw they can:

  • Face reprimand.

  • Be required to apologize.

  • Be required to attend educational training.

  • Be removed from council committees or bodies.

  • Be dimissed from a position of chairperson of a council committee.

When asked to respond to the emails obtained by CBC Mayor Sandra Masters said she didn't want to "enter the fray" on Morsky's letter.

"I think where council might enter into it as if we get any feedback based upon the information that's been shared," Masters said Thursday.

Stedman says that REAL has been repeatedly digging itself into a whole over the last year amid failed rebrands and bad decisions.

These type of revelations won't help fix its reputation.

"[Council] needs to be very alert to the fact that more conflicts and getting more entangled in Real for benefits is just going to make council look bad top to bottom," Stedman said.