Report outlines steps needed to reinstate Lakeland Ridges council

by | Nov 25, 2023

Elected representatives will not return to council table until at least February or March

The supervisor overseeing the operation of the Municipality of Lakeland Ridges released his long-awaited report on Friday, Nov. 24, laying out the steps required before the elected council can return to office. 

Greg Lutes, who served as supervisor since taking over from Michael Blaney on Sept. 17, submitted his report to Charbel Awad, Commissioner of Municipal Affairs, on Nov. 11. The province initially appointed Blaney as supervisor, effective July 28. 

The detailed transition plan is available online at transition-plan.pdf (gnb.ca)

Local Government Minister Glen Savoie welcomed the plan, which, when fully implemented, will allow the council to meet its governance operations for Lakeland Ridges, the expanded municipality which combines the villages of Canterbury and Meduction and former local service districts, including North Lake, Benton and Debec. 

“The implementation of the transition plan will be a positive path forward for the council, staff and residents of the Municipality of Lakeland Ridges and is an important next step in the reinstatement of the council’s decision-making authority,” he said. 

The transition plan, created following an inspector’s investigation of the problems leading to the council’s dysfunction and suspension, outlined a three-step program leading to the council’s reinstatement by February or March of 2024. 

In a public response, the commissioner accepted the plan and asked Lutes to keep the office informed of the progress of its implementation, noting the plan must be completed to Lutes’ satisfaction before council can return to office. The commissioner’s response is available online at greg-lutes-letter-lettre.pdf (gnb.ca).

“I am hopeful that the implementation of the transition plan will create a positive path forward for the council, staff and residents of the Municipality of Lakeland Ridges,” the commissioner said in response to Lutes’ report. “The next steps related to the transition plan will be important in determining the future of the council and their decision-making authority.” 

Awad noted the importance of everyone involved accepting and completing the plan. 

“Full participation by council and staff is necessary to ensure the expectations of the residents and all those impacted through this process are met,” he said. 

The transition plan sets deadlines for completing blocks of requirements, beginning with council members, the mayor and staff signing an agreement to follow the transition plan by Dec. 15.

In addition to the meeting and signed agreements, the first block of the plan, scheduled for the Dec. 15 completion, includes hiring a mediator to conduct mediation on roles and responsibilities and “identify issues and individuals requiring specific mediation.” 

The plan notes that mediation to resolve individual issues and interpersonal relationships would likely extend past the Dec. 15 deadline into 2024. 

“The speed at which conflicts can be resolved depends upon the complexity of the issue, the individuals involved, and their ability to find consensus to conclude a resolution,” the transition plan notes. 

Other block one steps include training to clarify council functions identified in the supervisor’s report, updating a code of conduct and providing complaint forms for staff and council. 

To provide more transparency, block one of the plan requires the purchase of video equipment to record and broadcast meetings and improve the council’s agenda and minutes format. 

The plan’s first block includes coaching and training of staff. 

The transition plan’s second block of steps, scheduled for completion by Jan. 31, looks to the future with a one-day session to develop a two-year strategic plan and implement associated standing committees. 

The plan also requires the supervisor to implement a CAO bylaw adhering to the Local Governance Act. 

The final block, scheduled for completion by February or March, would see the council conduct one or two meetings under the supervisor’s guidance. 

If the supervisor believes the transition plan has been successfully completed by February or March, he will recommend to the commissioner for the full reinstatement of the Lakeland Ridges council authority. 

Upon the supervisor’s recommendation, Mayor Tanya Cloutier and council members offered few details surrounding their suspension until recently. Rumours circulated through the municipality and on social media about deep divisions among some council members and staff. 

On Nov. 4, four council members who felt unfairly targeted on social media held a public forum at the North Lake Community Centre in Fosterville.  

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. They explained Ward 2 Coun. Patricia Budd supported their actions but could not attend because she was out of the country.

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

During the public meeting, the four councillors outlined a series of problems centred around problems between council and CAO Susie Patterson and Mayor Cloutier. 

The province blocked the council’s attempts to replace Patterson. 

Amid the turmoil, Lakeland Ridges’ only two administrative staff members took a health-related leave. They returned upon the appointment of the supervisor and suspension of the council. 

Following the North Lake public forum, the River Valley Sun asked Coun. Stairs if he could work with the same CAO in the future. He responded he and other council members would have to make it work. 

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

Mayor Cloutier made her first public statement about the turmoil in early November, shortly before the supervisor’s report. 

“So, as we are coming to the end of the investigation, I feel as though you deserve a response from me on why I ran in the first place, why I trusted in this process of supervision, which is to put us on the right path to ensure we give our people everything they deserve out of mayor and council,” Cloutier said in a social media post. 

Cloutier said her vision has always focused on community building and promoting a shared purpose for the entire community. 

The mayor said she purposely avoided speaking poorly of other council members and will continue on that same path in the future. 

Cloutier expressed confidence that council members can work together in the future. 

“I still believe Lakeland Ridges is the most beautiful spot in New Brunswick, and I know we can make it even better,” she said. “I can’t wait to be back in position where I represent you and I will do with the best of my ability!”

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