By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Two weeks after the resignation of County Commissioner Chris Micek and the appointment of Interim Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Ian McKay, Sturgeon County has once again changed its top administrator. Peter Tarnawsky, the County’s former manager of public services who had been fired by Micek a couple weeks earlier, returned to work Monday in Micek’s position.
Tarnawsky’s return to Sturgeon County was the result of 4-1 council vote made the evening of Nov. 8. Councillor Don McGeachy was the single opposing vote against Tarnawsky’s return. Mayor Don Rigney and Councillor David Kluthe were absent from the vote.
In an interview with MorinvilleNews.com Monday morning, Tarnawsky expressed his interest in putting the past behind him and moving forward with the work he’s been asked to do. “I’m pleased to be coming back to Sturgeon County,” he said. “I’ve invested a lot of effort over the last two-and-a-half years in the organization and community, and I’m pleased to be coming back. I see Council’s desire to have me back as a vote of confidence.”
While Tarnawsky was willing to discuss the circumstances of his return and the work to be done, he was reluctant to discuss the topic of his firing by his predecessor other than to say he was surprised and disappointed by the decision.
Tarnawsky’s return is on an interim basis for up to six months. During that time he will be tasked with a number of projects. “Council has asked that I look at bringing some closure to the 2012 budget [and] to the 2012 work plan,” he said, noting another part of his role will be overseeing operations and ensuring progress on some of the County’s priority items. Additionally, Tarnawsky will assist and support Council in their quest for a permanent CAO.
But it remains to be seen if that permanent position is in the cards for the former public services manager. “At this point I’m looking at this as a six-month assignment,” Tarnawsky said. “I think as things emerge, we’ll see how things go. If it becomes obvious that it is both in my interest and the County’s interest then I’d pursue the job permanently.”
Deputy Mayor Joe Milligan was one of the four councillors to vote for Tarnawsky’s return. “My own personal thought on that is that he [Tarnawsky] did do well with the staff, and we were in a position that we really needed some help at this time because we’re overworking the staff,” Milligan said, noting Tarnawsky was willing to come back. “I just thought it was a benefit to the County to have him back interim.”
Milligan was quick to point out Tarnawsky’s return as interim CAO was no slight on the work of Ian McKay, who stepped in the day of Micek’s resignation and has held the position since that time. “I think the biggest thing is it just overloaded him,” Milligan said of McKay who, in addition to his role as interim CAO, still maintained his position as general manager of infrastructure services. “He’s got a big department on his shoulders too. We’ve got snow season coming up and a lot of stuff coming up.”
For Milligan and those who voted for Tarnawsky’s return there was the understanding it was important to find someone who was both familiar with the County and who worked well with its administrative and support staff. “He’s got a lot of support from the staff,” Milligan said, noting he hoped Tarnawsky’s interim appointment will help provide some stability and remove some uncertainty with respect to staff morale.
Plenty of work ahead
Tarnawsky was replaced within days of his firing by Troy Grant, formerly of CFB Edmonton. The interim CAO said he had met Grant on a couple occasions and was looking forward to working with him. “He seems like a very capable and straight up guy,” Tarnawsky said. “I think he walked into an interesting situation, and I think he and I will see it is in our mutual interest to work very well together. Certainly there is nobody better equipped than me to help him in his role, and I’ll look to him for support in mine.”
Asked about working with a council that is often deeply divided, Tarnawsky said he was taught by long-time Edmonton politician Terry Cavanagh that all decisions of council, once carried, are to be treated as unanimous. “My intention would be to work with council in that sort of respectful manner,” Tarnawsky said. “Unquestionably the role of CAO is to offer advice and recommendations to council. Where I can recommend some activities or some approaches that will help them find that consensus, I’ll certainly be intending to do that.”
Tarnawsky said some of the projects to be dealt with over the next six months include finalizing the County’s Municipal Development Plan, Sturgeon Valley and Villeneuve plans as well as the ongoing work on 127 Street. Additionally, Tarnawsky said he sees work being done on focusing Sturgeon County’s long- and intermediate-term growth in terms of understanding opportunities for revenue growth.