WINNIPEG – A long-standing member of Winnipeg city council who mysteriously disappeared from city hall in January has revealed he’s in rehab for alcoholism and drug abuse.
Russ Wyatt, who represents Transcona, tells the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper he’s been battling depression for years and it eventually led him to alcohol addiction and substance abuse.
Wyatt requested a medical leave of absence from the city clerk on Jan. 19 and checked himself into the Aurora Recovery Centre near Gimli, where he remains.
Wyatt says he feels, as an elected official, he owes the public an explanation for his prolonged absence.
It’s unclear when, or if, he plans to return to work as a city councillor.
The councillor tells the Free Press that he has yet to make up his mind about whether he’ll run in the October civic election.
“With a family and as a father, I knew I couldn’t go on and I had to make a change in my life. I want to live life to the fullest and to be the best father I can be. Because of that, at this time, I must focus on my recovery,” Wyatt wrote in a letter to the Free Press, which the newspaper printed in full at his request.
He expressed hope that by speaking candidly about his struggle, he may help others dealing with mental health and addiction issues.
In an email to the paper, Wyatt said his family was covering the cost of his treatment.
City of Winnipeg administration was unable to provide clarification Thursday on whether any rules are in place governing what is to be done during a prolonged leave of absence by a city councillor.
Wyatt was first elected in 2002 at the age of 32. He has earned the reputation of being an outspoken council member and in the past he’s characterized his political perspective as fiscally conservative and socially progressive.
His father, Reg Wyatt, was a Winnipeg city councillor from 1983 to 1986. Coun. Janice Lukes said city hall has been lacking Wyatt’s presence.
“We really miss him. It’s a brave, very hard thing he’s doing. It’s really hard to take that step, but I’m really grateful that he’s seeking treatment,” she said. (Winnipeg Free Press)
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