Pelham’s shared solicitor, Jennifer Stirton, started work last week. DON RICKERS

Jennifer Stirton joins staff as shared solicitor

Most people wouldn’t want to answer to three bosses, but that is the reporting structure Jennifer Stirton has accepted in her new role as shared in-house solicitor for Pelham, Fort Erie, and Wainfleet. It is likely the first such arrangement in municipal history in Ontario, and represents a creative approach towards cost-sharing and financial sustainability by the three municipalities.

Pelham CAO David Cribbs, himself a lawyer, said that he was impressed by Stirton’s breadth of municipal experience during the Town’s search for candidates, which started last March.

“Jennifer has defended and done work for many municipalities, and has been exposed to best (and worst) practices from small, medium, and large municipalities,” told The Voice. “These experiences enable her to add value in many situations. She has a number of reported decisions, which means that she has represented municipalities in novel or unique situations, which has clearly taught her much.”

Stirton grew up in Mississauga and earned a science degree at McMaster, before getting the bug for jurisprudence. She attended Osgoode Hall in Toronto, graduating in 2002. Thereafter, she articled in Toronto before joining a small litigation firm in London, Ontario. Stirton represented a heavy load of municipal clients in the courts, and her work earned her a partnership.

“I really enjoyed working with the municipalities, and when the opportunity arose to be the in-house counsel here, I was very interested,” she said. “I have extended family members living close by in the GTA, so that was certainly an attraction. My own family has spent a fair bit of vacation time in Niagara over the last several years, so it just seemed like a wonderful opportunity and a great fit.”

Stirton has purchased a home in north St. Catharines, and will be commuting to the three partnering municipalities. Her husband will make the drive to Hamilton for work, and their two children are planning to enroll in a French immersion school.

Asked about impending challenges in the job, Stirton said, “I’m very eager to work with the municipalities in a proactive manner. From a risk management mitigation perspective, I want to address situations before they become significant problems.”

Most of Stirton’s daily labour will involve routine legal matters for the municipalities, while major litigation matters will continue to be handled by external legal counsel. Her workload will vary, but it is expected to result in a 40-40-20 split between Pelham, Fort Erie, and Wainfleet respectively.

In her off hours, Stirton enjoys taking her two rescue dogs for long family walks. She also has a passion for singing, and once COVID subsides, is interested in joining a community choir.

She said that her kids are eager to return to the Lakeside Park carousel in Port Dalhousie, not far from their home.

“It’s still five cents a ride,” she said with a laugh.