Tuesday, October 3, 2017

STURGEON COUNTY ELECTION PRIMER

The History of Sturgeon County Council Politics

For those of you who may be new to Sturgeon County, I thought it would be good to give you a little history so you can make sense of the roster of election candidates for this election. For the rest of you, a little recap.

Prior to the 2013 election council consisted of the following; 
  • Mayor – Don Rigney
Councillors (by division);
1.     Donald McGeachy
2.     Tom Flynn
3.     Ken McGillis
4.     Dave Kluthe
5.     Joe Milligan
6.     Karen Shaw.

The general consensus was that this council was badly split and becoming very dysfunctional. Not only could the council not get along internally, they couldn’t get along with any other community government in the region. Even the Provincial Government was exasperated and considering bringing down the hammer. They finally had to bring in a consultant to try and teach them how to get along while holding a meeting. 
So where did all this come from?

Basically, you had a mayor who seemed to think it should be a wild west for land developers. Why have rules and regulations on land developers? Just let the free market run wild and let anyone build anything anywhere. He railed against both the Provincial and neighboring governments in an attempt to put some sort of order and control on sprawling development. Co-incidentally he seemed to be a very close friend of at least one major land developer in the region.

 Morinville News 28 Feb 2012 Rolling doughnut comment causes displeasure among council 
 St Albert Gazette Feb 13 2013 Page 23 “Rigney slammed as ‘Pre-Medieval’

If one reads the comments in the last article by Jim Lightbody he comments “You might get a cheaper home initially if you let someone build wherever they want but the community will pay more if you don’t plan out the servicing beforehand.” Compare his prediction with the fact that in the last several years millions of County dollars are being spent on ‘legacy issues’ in many of the newer subdivisions that got built under that council. I for one don't think 'legacy' should be in the same sentence as 'new development'. I tend to think that's code for 'someone got away with doing a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am-took-the-money-and-ran job'.

Now Rigney had two cohorts, Don McGeachy and Dave Kluthe who would vote as a block. The other four were largely independent but over time began to be viewed as a block, essentially the anti-Rigney-three vote. Towards the end of the term the Rigney-three had thoroughly burned every bridge within a 100 miles and county government ground to a halt.

Election Time

The battle-lines were drawn for the 2013 election. Rigney was often heard to comment that he needed a fourth vote. Interestingly a major land developer in the region was overheard at a community function telling someone that he “had three councilors in his pocket, (and) needed one more”. The Rigney team launched a very well-funded campaign to take control of council. Besides the Rigney-three, candidates in other ridings had emerged; all with similar well-funded campaigns, messages and all known associates of the Rigney-three.

The anti-Rigney sediment in the county was palatable. While not coordinated, he managed to marshal attacks against him and his cohorts from all directions.
  • Tom Flynn decided Rigney had to go so launched a challenge for Mayor.
  • Karen Shaw dug in her heels to fight off their challenger in Div 6.
  • Jerry Kaup, a longtime councillor who had retired and gladly help Kluthe take over his seat only to become gravely disappointed in him. “The people out there were kind of fed up with what was going on,” he said, and wanted the “Rigney Three” of McGeachy, Kluthe and Rigney gone. Feeling betrayed and upset at the misuse of the budget he came out of retirement. 
    St Albert Gazette 5 Sep 2013 - Kaup returns to Sturgeon politics
    St Albert Gazette 22 Oct 2013 - Flynn win sweeps Sturgeon County - para 26-28 
  • Division 2 was left with no incumbent and wide open for the Rigney team. Here again they screwed-up. In the last year of their tenure the Rigney-three were hard at their developer free-for-all and tried to approve a very questionable development on the south edge of Cardiff with virtually no consultation or awareness of the residents. When word got out to Cardiff residents that it was nearing final approval and they hadn't even heard about it, they blew up. Still the Rigney-three unwisely poured gas on a bonfire and continued trying to bums-rush approval through council before the election. A community group emerged to challenge this and one of the spokesperson’s for the group, Susan Evans, eviscerated the Rigney-three at the approval meeting and halted approval until after the election. So outraged at the actions and behavior of the Rigney-three she decided to take them on and began her entry into politics with the Cardiff voters solidly behind her.
    St Albert Gazette 29 Feb 2012 - County halts Cardiff development
The public obviously felt much the same. The Rigney-three got pummeled at the polls. Flynn, Shaw, Kaup and Evans easily won their seats along with Ferd Caron who was running against McGeachy. Most had about double the vote of the Rigney block of candidates.

Of course there is often irony in an election and this was no different. Two of the Rigney-three’s recruits for other divisions, Wayne Bokenfohr and Pat Tighe ended up winning. Rigney had not only his fourth, but also his fifth Rigney-lite, except the Rigney-one, two and three were gone. This left both Bokenfohr and Tighe wandering around like lost puppies. A number of County staff have commented on overhearing them saying to each other things like “Well this wasn’t supposed to happen. What do we do now?” and “We were just supposed to show up and vote”. Tighe even expressed as much to the media.

So at the end of the day, the Rigney era of wild west land developers, council in-fighting, scrapping and insulting your neighboring municipalities and bad press came to an end. The new council was comprised of two incumbents who had been fighting the Rigney-three, three individuals who were independently fed up with bad government they saw from the Rigney-three, and two Rigney-three wannabes who sat confused and leaderless.


And this my fellow voters, sets the stage for election 2017 ...

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