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Ethics panel clears BZA member for appointment

The Birmingham Board of Ethics on Tuesday, December 19, cleared the way for attorney Jason Canvasser to be reappointed to the board of zoning appeals (BZA) after finding in an advisory opinion that the legal counselor was not prevented from serving on the panel just because his law firm was suing the city over a BZA decision.

Canvasser has served on the BZA since the start of 2016 and had applied to be reappointed as his current time on the panel is expiring.

City manager Janna Ecker had requested an advisory opinion from the board of ethics because the law firm Clark Hill, at which Canvasser is a partner, had applied for a dimensional variance in May for an illuminated sign at the firm's Birmingham office on Park Street. The BZA panel denied the variance request in June and Clark Hill sued in Oakland County Circuit Court to overturn the denial.

Canvasser, who works out of the Detroit office of the law firm, had recused himself for deliberations and the vote on the variance, both the city and Canvasser said. Canvasser told the BZA board that although he is a partner in the firm and has a fiduciary interest in the firm, he was not working on the lawsuit against the city and he was not a managing partner in the firm, which he said was an “important distinction.”

He also said he would continue to recuse himself from discussion or votes involving Clark Hill. BZA board members, according to the request for the advisory opinion, judged it to be prudent to seek an opinion.

Board of ethics members reviewed a prior decision on a conflict of interest case involving a member of a city panel but ultimately decided it was not relevant to the Canvasser case.

Board of ethics member Michael Coakley said that the situation “might give the public some concern,” but added that he saw “no reason why you cannot be appointed” again to the BZA .The three-member ethics panel unanimously supported a motion to issue an advisory opinion clearing the way for the reappointment.

The ethics panel also said the city commission could reappoint Canvasser in advance of the issuance of a written opinion at a future meeting.


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