Lakeland Ridges suspended councillors speak out as province replaces supervisor

by | Sep 27, 2023

Department said investigators’ report scheduled for end of October will determine when and how Commissioner of Municipal Affairs will lift suspension

Residents of Lakeland Ridges will remain without elected representatives overseeing its municipal government until beyond Halloween.

On July 28, under Part V of the Control of Municipalities Act, the Commissioner of Municipal Affairs suspended Lakeland Ridges council and appointed Michael Blaney as interim supervisor to oversee municipal operations and investigate the circumstances leading to council’s suspension.

The Department of Local Government confirmed it replaced Blaney on Sept. 16.

“Effective September 16, 2023, Greg Lutes assumed the role of supervisor for the Municipality of Lakeland Ridges as Michael Blaney was no longer able to fulfil the role of supervisor,” a spokesperson for Local Government confirmed in an email.

While all council members refrained from speaking publicly since the supervisor’s appointment in July, five of the eight council members broke their silence on Sept. 21, issuing a joint statement addressed to the resident of Lakeland Ridges.

The release included the names of Ward 1 Councillor Perry Bull, Ward 2 Councillors Patti Budd and Linda Porter, and Ward 3 Councillors Randy Stairs and Chris Yerxa. The release did not include the names of Ward 1’s Ross Stairs or Ward 4’s Mike Furrow and Mark Grant.

The councillors’ release raised concerns about what they see as an increasingly extended timeline of the supervisor’s role in the municipality and the need for more communication between the supervisor and the suspended council members.

“There have been no regular council meetings or decision-making by your elected representatives since July 28, nor will there be until after an investigation has taken place,” the councillors stated in the release.

The councillors noted the Department of Local Government set the middle of October as the original timeline for the supervisor to complete the process. They said that has now changed until the middle of November, and adding the replacement of the supervisor could extend that even further.

The department spokesperson said the ongoing investigation is set for completion by the end of October.

“The investigator is scheduled to provide a final report to the Supervisor by the end of October,” the Local Government told the River Valley Sun in an email. “This deliverable is currently on track.”

The spokesperson said the supervisor will remain in place until the Commissioner of Municipal Affairs concludes that the council can resume its business. 

“At that time, the Commissioner of Municipal Affairs will recommend that the local government no longer be subject to Part V of the Control of Municipalities Act,” the department explained. 

The spokesperson added that revoking the appointment of the supervisor and the local government ceasing to be subject to Part V of the Control of Municipalities Act requires an Order in Council. 

The suspended councillors raised concern that extending the suspension into November and beyond effectively takes the elected representatives out of critical decisions affecting the future of Lakeland Ridges, including a lack of input into the 2024 budget.

The councillors’ press release also noted that Lakeland Ridges taxpayers will bear the cost of the process.

“All costs will be passed onto the municipality, which could be tens of thousands of dollars,” they said. “We feel that this is an unnecessary burden on our residents.”

The department confirmed that Lakeland Ridges would face any additional costs involved in the process.

“The costs that are incurred from the appointment of a supervisor are the responsibility of the local government,” the department spokesperson said.

The Local Government spokesperson confirmed the suspended councillors are not being paid.

Where council has no authority to meet or make decisions, annual salaries outlined in the local government’s by-law cease until the local government is no longer under supervision,” the department spokesperson explained.

The councillors and the department spokesperson confirmed the supervisor will meet with council members as soon as possible.

“The Department is aware that the supervisor has reached out to council members and is in the process of determining a meeting date with the council,” the department spokesperson said. “Council does not meet and has no decision-making authority. The supervisor takes on the role normally exercised by council. “

The suspended councillors believe the Department of Local Government could have avoided the council’s suspension and the ongoing process with better communication from the beginning.

“We are disappointed that the government ignored our repeated requests for them to listen to our concerns,” they said in their release. “We feel if we would have been invited to speak, we could have come to a solution where council could have been able to continue to function in some manner, and our residents would have had representation.”

In a direct appeal to Lakeland Ridges residents, the suspended councillors criticized the department’s lack of communication with voters.

“We, the suspended councillors of the Municipality of Lakeland Ridges, recognize the importance of keeping you, the taxpayers and our residents informed.” the five councillors said in their statement. “We feel that the lack of information and the false accusations that have been made should be addressed by allowing residents to ask questions directly to us. If residents wish, town hall meetings can be arranged in their wards.”

The local government spokesperson said the supervisor plans to inform residents.

“The supervisor will determine the approach related to communicating with the public,” the department official explained. “The supervisor will share with the residents how information will be communicated.”  

The five suspended councillors pledged to return to working for the municipality as soon as possible.

“We are committed to working in the best interest of the whole community of Lakeland Ridges and addressing the needs of the various communities within our jurisdiction,” they said.

While the government never provided details surrounding why the Commissioner of Municipal Affairs invoked Part V of the Control of Municipalities Act, most community residents recognized dysfunction with the newly elected council.

The council had not met since May prior to the appointment of the Superintendent in July. Attempted meetings failed because of the failure to approve an agenda and the absence of municipal staff on medical leave.

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