Former Meductic mayor appointed Lakeland Ridges supervisor

by | Feb 16, 2024

Stephen Manuel replaces Greg Lutes to become the third appointee to oversee the rural community’s operations as council remains suspended

Former Meductic Mayor Stephen Manuel will take over as supervisor of the Lakeland Ridges Rural Community, effective today, Feb. 16.

The Department of Environment and Local Government announced the appointment under the Control of Municipalities Act, effective immediately.

“Manuel will continue to oversee the day-to-day administration of all local government affairs and take on the role normally exercised by council. While under supervision, council members have no decision-making powers or authority,” the department stated in its appointment.

The department said Manuel, who served 15 years as Meductic mayor, brings extensive local governance experience to this role. The village of Meductic, along with the village of Canterbury and the local service districts of Canterbury, North Lake, Benton and Debec, amalgamated into a single community on Jan. 1.

The new mayor and council devolved into chaos early in its mandate to the point where the province suspended the council and installed Michael Blaney as supervisor on July 28. Greg Lutes took over as supervisor on Sept. 17. Manuel will replace Lutes.

Throughout the ongoing process, Lakeland Ridges residents remain in the dark about reasons for the council’s dysfunction and any remedies in place to address the situation.

In January, Mayor Tanya Cloutier and Ward 4 Councillors Mike Furrow and Mark Grant, representing the former village of Canterbury, resigned their seats, citing the ongoing dysfunction and continuing bullying by some council members.

Meanwhile, frustration continues to grow among residents. A petition is now circulating online and available at several businesses, calling on the province to address the situation immediately and inform residents.

“As taxpayers, we would request from the Province total transparency with respect to current conditions of our council members and their everyday duties and agenda,” the petition states. “We, the public, are requesting that Provincial representatives guide current council members of our municipality of the policies, procedures and further find solutions and consequences to resolve the past activities and in order for them (council) to work in a professional, healthy and successful manner.”

Along with his vast municipal government experience, Manuel brings detailed knowledge about Lakeland Ridges and the formation of the expanded community. He served as a member of the transition team that oversaw the formation of the new municipality.

Manuel is also aware of the divisions and resistance of many civic leaders to form the rural community. The appointment of the first supervisor in late July didn’t take him by surprise.

“I’m disappointed things worked out the way they did,” Manuel told the River Valley Sun in August, “but I’m not surprised.”

He told the River Valley Sun he considered running for council in last November’s election but reconsidered because “I could see where it was going.”

While Manuel’s appointment comes after she and two councillors resigned, Cloutier welcomed the news.

“Being a past councillor and mayor from the area, he understands the needs of the people,” she said. “He was also involved in the reform process from the beginning and has a true commitment to our community.”

Cloutier believes the province must repair the problems within Lakeland Ridges council and answer for the process’s failure to correct the ongoing dysfunction.

“I feel the lack of accountability and process throughout the supervision so far needs to be addressed,” Cloutier said. “It was what caused myself and two councilors to step down from our positions.

“We were never given proper direction, the alliance formed in council was never halted, the harassing, bullying, blaming and hosting meetings was never handled or stopped,” she added.

Environment and Local Government spokesperson Kelly Cormier told the River Valley Sun in an email that the new supervisor’s role remains unclear, noting Manuel has yet to meet with the council.

“He will continue to oversee the day-to-day administration of all local government affairs and take on the role normally exercised by council,” Cormier said. “Next steps will be discussed with the council in the coming days.”

Cloutier said the province never effectively addressed the problems which divided council nor held councillors responsible for their actions. She added councillors didn’t get to see the investigator’s report.

“There were sessions for all council and staff being held to help bring us back together, yet the presenters were never given any background into the dysfunction saying, ‘if I told you, you might not come.’ That to me says something,” said Cloutier.

Cormier said the department has now shared the previous supervisor’s report to the Commissioner of Municipal Affairs with current council members.

While happy to see Manuel appointed, Cloutier is disappointed it didn’t happen sooner.

“I feel I was forced to step away as mayor, which is what I loved with all my heart and soul, out of frustration and lack of guidance,” Cloutier said. “But knowing Stephen is there gives me hope that the people of Lakeland Ridges will be taken care of.”

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