Lakeland Ridges mayor resigns

by | Jan 27, 2024

Tanya Cloutier says deep divisions remain within the suspended council, and ‘personal agendas’ overshadow her vision

In an early morning social media post on Jan. 27, Lakeland Ridges Mayor Tanya Cloutier announced her resignation from the newly amalgamated municipality. 

“Today marks a significant change as I officially step down from my role as Mayor of Lakeland Ridges,” Cloutier announced in her post. “This decision wasn’t an easy one, but it’s driven by my unwavering commitment to serving you — the individuals who entrusted me with this position.”

Lakeland Ridges, which comprises the former municipalities of Canterbury and Meductic and the local service districts of North Lake, Debec, Canterbury and Benton, has been under provincial supervision since July. 

With the mayor and council suspended, Supervisor Greg Lutes oversees the community’s day-to-day operations as the New Brunswick Department of Environment and Local Government completes a review of its elected officials. 

Stark differences rose between council members soon after they took office on Jan. 1. By April, council dysfunction created an inability to hold public council sessions, as they failed to agree on an agenda. 

In July, the province suspended the mayor and council and appointed Michael Blaney as supervisor. Lutes replaced him on Sept. 17. 

Although Lutes submitted a report to Charbel Awad, Commissioner of Municipal Affairs, on Nov. 11, residents remain in the dark about the problems which led to the council’s suspension or when they will return to office. 

The River Valley Sun attempted to interview Lutes, but he said all questions must go through the Department of Environment and Local Government.

In response to questions from the River Valley Sun on Jan. 22, including when it will make the supervisor’s report public, department officials offered little information about the ongoing situation in Lakeland Ridges. 

“The Department of Environment and Local Government continues to support the ongoing work of the supervisor during the implementation of the transition plan,” said department spokesperson Clarissa Andersen in an email response. “The department is still conducting a review to determine if any of the supervisor’s report may be made publicly available.” 

Cloutier, who served as the Village of Canterbury mayor before winning election in Lakeland Ridges, said she resigned when it became apparent that the supervisor’s role in bringing the council together was failing. 

“During my time as mayor, I’ve learned and grown from both successes and mistakes,” Cloutier said in her resignation announcement. “My oath and the Code of Conduct served as my guiding principles, shaping my actions each day.”

She said that what she envisioned as “a collaborative effort for the greater good unfortunately took a different turn.” 

Cloutier expressed disappointment in the process of bringing the council together.

“The lack of support, accountability and clear path forward became apparent, making it increasingly challenging to fulfill my goals I shared with (voters) during my candidacy,” she said. 

With no official statement offering details of the council’s dysfunction, Lakeland Ridges’ residents are left primarily with the rumour mill and social media to gather information. As a result, the mayor and several council members feel unfairly targeted with rumour and innuendo. 

In her resignation statement, Cloutier said, despite training sessions, the deep divisions and accusations remain. 

“Unfortunately, the good in many situations does not prevail,” she said. “Being slandered by a few, being accused of being ‘the biggest problem in council, the outbursts and no accountability by some to their mistakes has been ongoing and no apparent change even through the training sessions we have received.”

Citing concern about social media comments, four councillors ignored the supervisor’s recommendations to avoid public comment and held a public forum at the North Lake Community Centre on Nov. 4. 

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. 

Ward 2 Coun. Patricia Budd supported their actions, but was unable to attend. 

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

Like the mayor, the council members at the North Lake meeting feel they were unfairly attacked. 

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

The Nov. 4 public meeting focused on the council’s efforts to replace top administrative staff, including CAO Susie Patterson, and ongoing communication problems with the mayor and staff. 

They also highlighted issues surrounding choosing the former Canterbury town hall as Lakeland Ridges’ municipal office. 

Speaking to the River Valley Sun before the mayor’s resignation, Canterbury businesswoman Laura Russell said most Lakeland Ridges residents are in the dark about the council’s situation, but they each have their own opinions. 

“We don’t know,” she said. 

She sees residents regularly as the owner of Russell’s Store in Canterbury, but few offer strong opinions. 

In her view, Russell said she and most others blame it on “fighting within themselves.” 

She said some on council and many residents didn’t want the divergent communities amalgamated into the massive municipality. 

Russell believes that the councillors are fighting for their own interests instead of working together. 

Although CAO Patterson and the Local Government say the supervisor provides written updates to residents through the Municipality of Lakeland Ridges Facebook page, almost all posts deal with municipal issues such as garbage pickup or emergency issues. 

Local Government said Lutes is available to answer questions from council members or residents. 

As she steps down as mayor, Cloutier said she will continue working on behalf of the community’s residents. 

“My vision as mayor was clear — to bring opportunities for all ages to our community,” she wrote. “Regrettably, this vision was overshadowed by personal agendas of others. Despite these challenges, I will continue supporting you, the people.”

Cloutier said she will continue her efforts with numerous community organizations, including the Ward 4 Rec Committee, Cinderella’s Closet, District Education Council, Upper River Valley Hospital Foundation, the Cemetery Committee and the delivery of veggie bags to Lakeland Ridges residents each month. 

“While I step away from the mayoral role, I am not turning my back on you. I cannot endorse a mandate that goes against my principles, but I am still here to assist in any way possible,” Cloutier said. 

The Village of Canterbury is one of two villages and surrounding local service districts to form the new Municipality of Lakeland Ridges. (Jim Dumville photo)

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