By Stephen Dafoe
Sturgeon County – Tempers flared among Sturgeon County Councillors Tuesday on the matter of solidifying and ratifying Peter Tarnawsky’s contract as Interim Chief Administrative Officer.
Tarnawsky, who had previously been employed as manager of public services, had some involvement in the County’s intervention during the Alberta Utilities Commission’s Heartland Transmission Line hearings. He was subsequently fired by Sturgeon County’s previous CAO, Chris Micek. After Micek’s resignation a few weeks later, Tarnawsky was invited back as interim CAO. Tarnawsky’s approval in that capacity was the result of a 4-1 split vote of Council held the evening of Nov. 8. However, solidifying that agreement Dec. 13 resulted in some apparent old wounds being opened and exposed by members of Council.
After Councillor Tom Flynn made the motion, Councillor Don McGeachy publicly questioned if anyone had received an explanation as to why the County’s closing arguments at the AUC’s Heartland Transmission Line hearings were specifically worded “build without delay,” a position the County had not previously espoused.
Councillor Ken McGillis challenged McGeachy’s line of questioning stating the AUC matter was not relevant in the matter of Tarnawsky’s contract as interim CAO. McGeachy countered arguing the AUC matter was specifically why he was not in support of the motion to hire Tarnawsky when it came forward Nov. 8 and that he wanted to make the matter public. McGeachy was the sole opposing vote in the Nov. 8 vote to hire Tarnawsky as temporary replacement for Micek.
Councillor David Kluthe questioned whether Tarnawsky’s severance package as manager of public services would be paid back if the contract as interim CAO was approved. “It’s the taxpayer’s money,” Kluthe said. “I think they have a right to know. I’m of the impression it’s close to $100,000.”
Mayor Don Rigney also expressed his concern about hiring Tarnawsky and said a valid issue existed both with respect to Tarnaswsky’s performance at the AUC hearings and with respect to the late night vote to bring him back as interim CAO.
“It was decided against my opposition,” Rigney said, adding he felt the AUC issue was relevant to the discussion of Tarnawsky’s contract. “We spent $400,000 of tax payer’s money and we’ve yet to receive a cogent explanation of why the final argument went in as it did.”
Councillor McGillis said the mayor was out of order with his line of discussion and called a vote to silence that discussion. That vote was carried 4-3, with the mayor and Councillors Kluthe and Rigney in favour of his continuing the line of argument.
“I think this is very undemocratic, but that is what the majority has decided,” Rigney said after being censored.
Councillor McGillis said the AUC hearing was a matter he had no problem having a public discussion about; however, he argued the mayor had never exercised his right to add it to the council agenda.
Rigney countered with an accusation that councillors had held the possibly illegal vote on Tarnawsky’s return after a public hearing Nov. 8 to keep the decision out of the public eye.
“You walked out of the meeting and you did not even participate,” McGillis shouted at Rigney, a reference to Rigney and Councillor Kluthe’s departure from the Nov. 8 meeting prior to the vote. Rigney defended his departure by saying he had no intention of participating in what he saw as bad governance and an unethical voting process.
Council then voted 4-3 in favour of confirming and ratifying Tarnawsky’s contract as interim CAO, a position that is scheduled to run two to six months, and one Councillor Don McGeachy disclosed as carrying a $15,000 per month salary. The vote to ratify the contract was opposed by Councillors Kluthe, McGeachy and the mayor.