County councillors forced their former county commissioner to retire this month in large part because of his handling of the Heartland Transmission Project, says a council insider.
Chris Micek tendered his resignation as commissioner of Sturgeon County on Nov. 1. Micek, a former environmental manager with Agrium, had been the county's top administrator since 2008. He declined a request for an interview.
The resignation, which council accepted in a 5-2 vote, came during an in camera personnel meeting between Micek and council that lasted more than three hours. Senior county officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have since confirmed that the meeting was about Micek's job.
Coun. Dave Kluthe, who voted against the resignation along with Coun. Don McGeachy, said that council had put Micek in a position where he had to either resign or get fired. "He was forced to resign because he didn't have the support of a majority of council any longer."
Micek's troubles started earlier this year, Kluthe said, when the county intervened in the Alberta Utilities Commission's hearing on the Heartland Transmission Project — the 500-kilovolt double-circuit transmission line recently approved for construction through the east of Sturgeon County. While county councillors had publicly opposed the line, county representatives led by then-manager of public services Peter Tarnawsky told the commission in their closing remarks that the line should be approved "without delay."
That was never the intent of council, Kluthe said.
"Council made it very clear we were very upset with that result, and we wanted something done about it, and eventually Chris [Micek] basically fired Peter [Tarnawsky]."
Councillors felt that Tarnawsky should not have been fired over this issue, and began to call for Micek's departure. Council had had some issues with Micek not following through on requests on time, Kluthe said, but nothing that warranted getting rid of him.
"He was doing his job to the best of his ability."
Council should not have accepted Micek's resignation, Kluthe argued, especially this close to budget time. "It's going to cost a lot of money to replace him." Instead, he said, they should have kept him on staff until his next performance review.
Praise for Micek
Coun. Tom Flynn praised Micek for bringing openness to council and all of administration.
"He made it very easy for us to talk to any part of the staff," he said. "We're going to miss him. He's done a lot of good for the county."
Kluthe described Micek as one of the most honest and hardworking persons he's ever known.
"He's a super-nice guy and [this incident] didn't justify letting him go."
McGeachy was not available for comment prior to this issue's deadline. Mayor Don Rigney and councillors Ken McGillis, Joe Milligan and Karen Shaw declined to speak about this issue.