In a surprise move at a special 7 a.m. Redwood Meadows council meeting Jan. 26, mayor George Allen was ousted, and Coun. Glenn Dzus was installed.
As the townsite on Tsuut'ina Nation land wrestles with next steps in an ongoing controversy involving recall measures, allegations of financial wrongdoing, and crumbling infrastructure, many in the small community hope Allen’s expulsion brings closure to a lengthy – and at times rancorous – dispute.
Others are not so sure.
A group of Redwood Meadows citizens calling themselves the ‘concerned citizens group’ had been trying to have Allen ousted for months. The group includes four former mayors, and some ex-councillors.
Paul Sawler, who was mayor from 2017 to 2021, is a leader of the group. He said he got involved because he “just couldn’t take it anymore.”
Sawler said after Allen was removed last week, “people were blowing horns in the street.”
He said it was Allen who called the meeting for 7 a.m.
“He did that for a reason – he figured it would be at a time when people just wouldn’t show up,” Sawler said.
About 50 residents did show up, and Sam Jackson was acclaimed as a new councillor, despite, as Sawler claims, Allen’s attempts to block it from happening.
“Which changed the dynamics of the room, another councillor left, and all of a sudden George didn’t control the meeting anymore,” Sawler said.
So the stage was set for a motion to remove Allen, which Jackson voted in favour of, and Dzus took over as mayor.
Coun. Dave Dunay said he was not allowed to speak on behalf of council but he felt positively about the recent developments.
“After all that’s gone on here, I’m hoping things are moving forward,” he said.
In the fall, the dissidents collected petition signatures by going door-to-door. At a meeting on Nov. 30, they achieved a total of 306 votes (the count was 306 to six) calling for Allen to be removed.
The conflict came to a head as a Jan. 3 council meeting at Redwood House began with a crowd member, from the back of the room, loudly accusing Allen of lying.
When one of the council members said people who disrupt the meeting would be removed, the resident responded, “You can try!”
Allen adjourned the meeting temporarily and Tsuut’ina police were called in to restore order, but confusion reigned as they attempted to settle back to business.
Some council members, including Allen, spoke so softly they could barely be heard among the crowd, and at one point, after a lengthy discussion about setting aside funds for legal consultants in the future, Coun. Gord Tate said, “Wait, is there a motion on the floor?”
He was not the only one confused, as there was no mention of a motion being introduced (just a slide on the screen) and no one had seconded anything. There never was a vote on the ‘motion’ or any explanation of why or how that topic had been resolved, if at all.
When some members of the crowd tried to be heard, they were quickly cut off by council, saying speaking during the meeting was against the rules. Later, some audience members were allowed to speak.
Besides a personality clash, and allegations of cost over-runs on recent infrastructure projects like improvements to Redwood Meadows’ rugby field and upgrades to the skating shack, the most contentious infrastructure issue is the townsite’s water treatment plant. The aging plant has been the focus of discussion for months, if not years.
In an interview with The Eagle a few weeks ago, Allen claimed the concerned citizens group focused on him to distract attention away from what he deemed mismanagement of the treatment plant issue by previous councils.
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.
Sawler disputes the accuracy of those numbers.
He said the treatment plant has been as issue for a long time, but is not as serious as some, like Allen, are letting on.
“It just had repairs. Leaks have been an issue for years, we’re like the dyke – we plug them up,” he said.
“We need a better solution long-term, but that will be between the council and the Nation.”
The Townsite of Redwood Meadows is technically a society, as it leases the land from the Tsuut’ina Nation long-term. As such, it is not a municipality and is not governed by the same laws as cities, towns, or villages in Alberta. But it still operates more or less as a municipality would, making it a “quasi-municipality” with all the grey areas attached.
Townsites do not qualify for provincial funding the same way a municipality might.
A new long-term lease agreement with the Tsuut’ina Nation was signed in 2021.
The Townsite’s website states, “The lease extension continues a partnership that has been in place since the 1970s, providing Tsuut’ina a multi-generational benefit, while creating certainty for the residents of Redwood Meadows.”