A storm is brewing in the usually sleepy little community of Redwood Meadows, and it has nothing to do with the weather.
A group of disgruntled residents recently circulated a petition and designated their own mayor, as they are pressuring the current mayor to step down.
But mayor George Allen is standing firm as the rancour that started a few months ago escalates. Allen was voted in as mayor by the Townsite’s council when elected mayor Ed Perkins resigned on Nov. 21, citing health reasons.
In his outgoing message to residents on the Townsite’s website, Perkins stated: “it’s also crucial to remember that even if people have different opinions and understandings, there is no place for bullying, threats, or verbal abuse.”
Allen is accusing the dissident group of that very behaviour – a claim the group is denying.
Two current council members – Gordon Tate and Dave Dunay – have joined the concerned citizens group, who are calling on the remaining councillors, including the mayor, to step aside and hold an election within 60 days.
Paul Sawler, who was mayor from 2017 to 2021, is spearheading the dissident group. He has a degree in commerce with a major in finance and is accusing the sitting council of financial mismanagement of community funds. It’s a claim denied by Allen.
The dissidents got what they called the requisite number of signatures on a petition by going door-to-door, and at a meeting on Nov. 30, they agreed to ask Allen and one other councillor to step down.
Allen countered by arguing the group did not follow proper procedures for their petition, so he doesn’t consider it valid.
Now, lawyers from both sides are providing advice on next steps, while the community remains divided. There are approximately 700 voting residents in Redwood Meadows, which has a total population of around 1,200 people.
At the Nov. 30 meeting, Sawler said they got a total of 306 votes (the count was 306 to six) to call for the sitting mayor and one councillor to be removed.
The concerned citizens group has also appointed Sawler as interim mayor and two former councillors as temporary councillors.
So that means there is the elected council and a parallel “council” in place. Both sides in the dispute are making allegations that are being denied by the other.
“George refused to resign, even though 98 percent of the people told them they were gone,” Sawler said.
He added that the group is struggling to understand why Allen is ignoring the request to leave.
“Why would you stay for this? It’s beyond bizarre. I can guarantee you, if 300 people asked me to resign when I was mayor, I’d have run,” Sawler said.
Allen said the concerned citizens group has even come to his home to intimidate him.
“They have sent multiple men to our home to deliver ultimatums, they’ve unlawfully entered town hall after hours – we’re still investigating how. They’ve harassed staff and threatened vendors, they’ve sent out communications impersonating the Townsite,” Allen said.
Sawler denies his group has engaged in any harassment or intimidation tactics.
Allen, who is an electrical engineering technologist with a background in water treatment, points to the treatment plant’s deterioration as the most important issue facing the Townsite. The plant has been identified by independent engineering consultants as being overdue for refurbishing or replacement.
He claims the concerned citizens group is focused on finances to distract attention away from what he called Sawler’s mismanagement of the water issue when he was mayor.
“The water infrastructure has been improperly maintained for decades, and Paul knew this,” he said.
Allen claims that years of neglect have resulted in boil water advisories, a recent failed inspection, and a pending bill of $6 million for rehabilitation of the 50-year-old plant, which was designed for a 25-year lifespan.
He laid that funding crunch at the feet of previous administrations.
“I believe I can help the community with these issues – I have no interest in sweeping them under the rug as has been done in the past,” Allen said.
“I’m not going to give in to bullying.”
A 2010 report by MPE Engineering Ltd. estimated that as much as 75 per cent of the water produced by the treatment plant was unaccounted for (treated water leaking straight into the ground), resulting in a cost to the community of $86,000 per year.
Allen estimated that with inflation, it’s now costing closer to $200,000 a year.
Another former Redwood Meadows mayor, John Welsh, was quoted in other media outlets comparing Allen to former U.S. president Donald Trump in the way he’s refusing to accept the will of the people.
Sawler said it’s not the wording he would’ve chosen, but he agrees with the sentiment.
“It’s not far off: ‘I will not accept what this community wants,’” Sawler said.
He added that the lawyers from both sides are sitting down together to try to arrive at a mutually agreeable way forward, which he said his group will abide by.
“Hopefully, they’ll be able to come up with something,” he said.
“I know that we’ll be fine with it, it’s whether or not George Allen will be fine with it.”
The Townsite recently hired a public relations firm and a lawyer at residents’ expense, which is a move Sawler called “unconscionable.”
“The lawyer has done nothing but pick holes in what we’re doing – that the petition wasn’t correct, the wording wasn’t correct,” he said, adding that his own group’s lawyer advised them they did everything they were required to do to remove a mayor from office.
So the two competing legal discussions will determine which side weathers the storm.
At the crux of the confusion is the unique governance situation surrounding the Townsite of Redwood Meadows. Technically and legally a society, the Townsite is not governed by the rules guiding other municipalities in Alberta. But it operates as a municipality would, making it a “quasi-municipality” with all the grey areas attached.
Townsites do not qualify for provincial funding in the same way that a municipality might.
Redwood Meadows is situated on land they lease from the Tsuut’ina Nation. A new long-term lease agreement with the First Nations band was signed in 2021.