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Debate over leadership gripping Redwood Meadows

The townsite of Redwood Meadows is typically a quiet community in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, but a heated debate over leadership that is boiling over has left things not as sleepy as they usually are.

It’s the result of many months of concerns over the townsite’s financial situation, accusations of bullying and an attempt to oust the current mayor and council.

Many residents are concerned with recent financial reporting, which they said failed to show a spending deficit after investments in several projects went over budget, like the community rugby pitch and the skate shack at the local outdoor rink.

Local leadership did not listen to those concerns, according to some residents.

“They have two-and-a-half more years if we just went along and let this council ride through until the next election was due,” Redwood Meadows resident Mike Norman said.

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“I don’t think we can afford that two-and-a-half years.”

Earlier this year, a group of four former mayors and four former deputy mayors of the townsite got together to hold a town meeting with more than 300 people in attendance.

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The group gathered the required signatures and claimed the Nov. 30 meeting saw 98 per cent support to remove the current mayor and council and vote to replace them within 60 days.

“That was the only way, from a legal perspective, that we could get this done,” said Paul Sawler, a former mayor and leader of the group attempting to remove the mayor and council.

“It was to have a meeting, change the bylaw and pass some resolutions to remove the councillors.”

According to Sawler, the move was recognized in a letter by the provincial government.

Sawler added he was chosen to serve as interim mayor until an election can be held next year.

Redwood Meadows, west of Calgary, is on land leased from the Tsuut’ina Nation and is the only townsite recognized by the provincial government.

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Because it is a townsite, it holds unique legal status which states its local government is a society and not a municipality.

“We don’t have the legal protections of a place like Chestermere, where (if) things have gone wrong… the province will step in and take over and do an investigation,” Sawler said.

“We are basically on our own.”

However, current Redwood Meadows mayor George Allen said there are issues with the attempt to remove the townsite’s leadership.

Allen was elected to council in October 2021, but was appointed mayor earlier this month after his predecessor resigned from the role.

“This group is focused on bullying,” Allen said. “They are not following the proper procedures and proper bylaws of our community.

“With the petition, they actually represented themselves as the townsite when they distributed it. There are a number of flaws.”

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Allen pointed to the issues included in a legal opinion on the situation by a Calgary law firm hired on retainer by the townsite.

According to Allen, there are accusations of bullying as well as locks being changed at the townsite’s administrative office.

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On Dec. 20, there were two councils claiming to represent the community meeting simultaneously: Allen’s meeting was held virtually while Sawler’s was being held in the townsite office.

“They unlawfully entered the building — we’re not sure how they accessed it,” Allen said. “That is being investigated.”

He said there is a cap on council spending and a financial manager has been hired to improve transparency, but the situation is distracting from concerns over water treatment issues.

“I recognize that this group has a lot of knowledge in the community, and we would love to see them come work with us to solve some of these problems,” Allen said. “That would be the ultimate win.”

Both sides of the debate have also hired lawyers as the situation continues, which could prompt a legal battle over leadership of the community.

But there remain costs for things like infrastructure, according to former mayor John Welsh, who said he is confused over why the townsite’s leadership won’t step down.

“All we’re saying is just resign so we can have a vote,” he said.

“It makes no sense why volunteers will not step aside for the community that they love.”

A special general meeting is scheduled for Jan. 31. Allen said council will discuss changing the bylaws at that meeting to allow for residents to remove a member of council.

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