Deep divisions in Lakeland Ridges

by | Nov 8, 2023

Four councillors hold a public forum to explain what led to council’s suspension

As Lakeland Ridges residents await a report outlining what led to the suspension of their mayor and council and how the municipality will proceed, four councillors held a public forum on Saturday, Nov. 4, sharing their side of the story.

Perry Bull, representing North Lake’s Ward 1, Linda Porter from Debec’s Ward 2, and Chris Yerxa and Randy Stairs from Meductic’s Ward 3, addressed residents and fielded questions at the North Lake Recreation Centre in Fosterville. They explained Ward 2 Coun. Patricia Budd supported their actions but could not attend because she was out of the country.

Mayor Tanya Cloutier, Canterbury’s Ward 4 councillors Mike Furrow and Mark Grant and Ward 1’s Ross Stairs did not participate in the public forum.

Bull said the four councillors on hand, plus Budd, represent a quorum of councillors who agreed to speak publicly. Porter read a statement from Budd expressing her support for the meeting.

Following the meeting, Bull explained they held the open meeting in North Lake in response to requests from Ward 1 residents. He said they would do the same in other wards if residents wanted it.

Stairs explained the meeting intended to make facts public.

“We’ve been slandered on social media,” he said.

“Every statement we make today will be backed up,” Stairs said, noting they have the emails and other records to confirm their claims.

Stairs and his fellow councillors at the table listed several problems leading to the Department of Local Government’s suspension of council and the appointment of a supervisor. The focal point surrounded communication problems with Lakeland Ridges CAO Susie Patterson and council’s failed attempts to replace her.

They cited several occasions where the CAO failed to provide requested information and made decisions without council’s knowledge or consent.

Bull explained the Local Governance Act requires all municipalities to have a mayor, clerk, treasurer and auditor. While a CAO can fill one of those roles, he noted, council sets the CAO’s powers and duties,

Bull said the communication issue with the CAO began early when the council formed a committee to decide on the location of the Lakeland Ridges municipal office. He said Mayor Cloutier and the CAO explained the Canterbury town hall was gifted to the town and must be used as a municipal office.

Bull said the committee requested a copy of the deed, but the CAO failed to produce it.

“That held us up for five months,” he said.

The four councillors noted several instances where council or respective committees failed to receive critical information.

They said the CAO registered to attend a conference without informing the council of the timing or cost.

The councillors also complained about the circumstances surrounding the application for grant money covering the hiring of summer students.

He said the CAO applied for the grants in February or March.

“We didn’t know anything about it,” Stairs said. “We weren’t asked. That was one of the things where the tail was wagging the dog.”

Porter, who chaired the Tourism Committee and has experience delivering youth programs through Debec Recreation Council, raised concerns about creating a Fun Park in Canterbury for the summer.

She explained specific rules must be met, including the screening of all staff.

Porter said she failed to receive timely information, raising concerns that the Fun Park would meet “all-important” rules.

“We’re responsible for those kids,” Perry said, adding the Fun Park proceeded without those questions being asked.

Yerxa complained about the town staff’s failure to keep council members informed. He recounted being “blindsided” at a public event by residents of his ward about an unaddressed complaint.

Bull said the final straw leading to their suspension occurred after their efforts to replace the CAO. By that time, both the CAO and clerk were off the job on stress leave.

Stairs said council used Section 35:11 of the Local Government Act to terminate the CAO, noting Minto and Carleton North recently used the same section.

They approached retired Woodstock CAO Ken Harding to fill the role temporarily. He agreed to terms on a part-time basis. Stairs said Mayor Cloutier informed them that the CAO or clerk position must be full-time.

Stairs said they then talked to Peter Kavanaugh, an experienced official in several roles with the Department of Local Government. He said Kavanaugh agreed to retire from Local Government if he took on the Lakeland Ridges role.

Stairs said that fell apart when Kavanaugh’s name was leaked to the public and the department following a close-door council meeting. Kavanaugh informed the council he was no longer interested in the job.

Local Government eventually ended the council’s effort to terminate the CAO.

Shortly after the department appointed Michael Blaney as supervisor of Lakeland Ridges on July 28, Canterbury administrative staff returned to their jobs.

Greg Lutes replaced Blaney as supervisor for the Municipality of Lakeland Ridges on Sept. 16.

A spokesperson for the Department of Local Governance said Lutes is working with the staff in day-to-day operations, with the current priority of finalizing the 2024 budget.

The department said an inspector is completing an investigation, which will be part of a report Lutes will submit to the commissioner of municipal affairs. The report will also include recommendations and a transition plan to implement the recommendations.

The councillors’ meeting in North Lake on Saturday met with a mixed reaction. Many appreciated unknown details, while others raised concern about hearing only one side of the story.

Second Eel Lake resident Larry Corscadden hopes the pending government report explains the situation, but, most importantly, he hopes the transmission back to council works smoothly.

“The fact of the matter is that I pay, like everyone else in this room, a hell of a lot of taxes, and as a result, nothing has been done with my money since the council was established, so I really, really, really hope that you folks get your act together and I mean that collectively.”

Corscadden told the councillors he didn’t see any of them take responsibility for what happened nor offer an apology.

All four councillors apologized and accepted part of the blame at the end of the meeting.

Asked if he could work with the same CAO once he resumes as council, Stairs said he’d have no choice.

“Will that be easy? No. Will we try to work through it? Yes.” he said. “Will it be successful? Guess we will know.”

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