Former member of Municipal Reform Transition Team suggests some councillors never wanted the process to work

by | Aug 12, 2023

A transition team member who helped oversee the formation of the new municipality of Lakeland Ridges recognized potential problems awaited, but he hoped common sense would prevail.

For former Meductic Mayor Steve Manuel, Local Government’s Aug. 4 announcement that a provincially appointed superintendent would at least temporarily replace the Lakeland Ridge council didn’t come as a shock.

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

The province appointed Michael Blaney, a former Gagetown mayor and former Capital Regional Service District chair, as the superintendent.

Lakeland Ridges is a massive new municipality formed from the former villages of Meductic and Canterbury and the local service districts of Canterbury, North Lake, Debec and Benton.

Manuel said some transition team members under facilitator Don Ferguson indicated from the outset they opposed municipal reform, especially when it came to plans surrounding the formation of Lakeland Ridges.

He said some of those who believed the community wouldn’t work won election to council and now are “going to see to it that it doesn’t work.”

Manual said he considered running for council last year, but “I could see where it was going.”

Manual didn’t identify who he believes is behind the dispute, but they have enough power to handcuff council’s efforts.

“It’s not all of council,” he said. “There are some who want to make it work.”

Manual praised Mayor Tanya Cloutier’s efforts, who, he said, is trying to make the amalgamation work.

While provincial officials advised Lakeland Ridges council members and the mayor against speaking publicly at this time, some councillors expressed their opposition to the municipal reform before the transition process began.

Lakeland Ridges councillor and former Meductic councillor Randy Stairs told the River Valley Sun in March of 2022 that the formation of what was then called Entity 72 made no sense.

He and then Meductic Mayor Lance Graham said the province forced municipal reform upon them without any input from the affected communities.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Graham said then. “Great people out there and all, but it doesn’t make any sense for us. Looking out for the needs out there (other Entity 72 communities) and our needs here (Meductic) are two different things.”

Stairs said the plans for municipal reform arrived on their doorstep without any input from council members or residents.

“They don’t tell us until it’s too late to do anything about it,” he said before the transition meetings started.

The Department of Local Government offered little information about the Lakeland Ridges situation, including how long the superintendent will be in place and full details about his authority.

“I have full confidence in Mr. Blaney’s ability to oversee the day-to-day operations, the administration of the local government and the administrative and financial responsibilities of the local government, Local Government Minister Glen Savoie. “He will remain in that role until such time as it is determined that the council is able to resume its operations,”

The department didn’t respond to questions about whether Blaney will hold a public meeting to address residents’ concerns or why the drastic step was needed in the first place.

Residents know the council has not held a meeting since May after failing to agree on an agenda on one occasion. The absence of both Lakeland Ridges administrative staff members after they left on medical leave forced the cancellation of subsequent meetings.

Manuel said residents throughout Lakeland Ridges recognized sharp divisions within the council, but the staff turmoil brought the bad situation to light.

He described both staff members as experienced in their respective roles.

Second Eel resident Greg Grant, who failed in his bid for Lakeland Ridge and former council candidate, said many Lakeland Ridges residents were aware of the council dysfunction, but still don’t know details.

“It’s a shame grown people can’t get along for the betterment of the people they represent,” he said.

Grant said he planned to attend a council meeting for more details, but that meeting never took place.

He said residents want details about how the municipal government is dealing with day-to-day issues.

“The municipality has hundreds of thousands of dollars that need allocation,” Grant said.

In his statement to the River Valley Sun, Minister Savoie said Blaney will retain an inspector “to investigate the affairs of the local government and will assist in the creation of a report recommending actions required for the council to return to carrying on its business.”

Savoie said Blaney has no specific timeline.

“He will remain in that role until such time as it is determined that the council is able to resume its operations,” he said in his statement.

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