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Sturgeon County decides on new CAO

Sturgeon County councillors finally found their new permanent chief administrative officer this week, and it's Peter Tarnawsky – the guy who's been sitting across from them since November. Council voted 4-3 in favour of appointing Tarnawsky as its permanent CAO at a meeting Tuesday. Couns. Don McGeachy, David Kluthe and Mayor Don Rigney opposed the motion.

Sturgeon County councillors finally found their new permanent chief administrative officer this week, and it's Peter Tarnawsky – the guy who's been sitting across from them since November.

Council voted 4-3 in favour of appointing Tarnawsky as its permanent CAO at a meeting Tuesday. Couns. Don McGeachy, David Kluthe and Mayor Don Rigney opposed the motion.

It's a job that Tarnawsky said he's had an interest in for at least four years.

"I'm looking forward to the opportunity to work on behalf of council," he said.

Long journey

Council's decision ends a long, strange journey for Tarnawsky that began last fall when he was sacked from his job as the county's manager of public services.

"I've been living the dream of the Chinese philosopher [who said], 'May you live in interesting times,'" Tarnawsky joked.

According to Kluthe, council had been displeased that representatives under Tarnawsky's supervision had told the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) to approve the Heartland Transmission Project "without delay" despite council's vocal opposition. That prompted then-CAO Chris Micek to fire Tarnawsky, which prompted council to all but force Micek to resign on Nov. 1, 2011.

After an unusual late-night in camera session on Nov. 8, council voted 4-1 to re-hire Tarnawsky as interim CAO, with McGeachy opposed. Kluthe and Rigney both walked out of the meeting in protest before the vote was called. In an interview, Rigney later called the decision "obscene," arguing that the county had re-hired Tarnawsky without getting an explanation of how the mix-up at the AUC had occurred. Council then started on a months-long search for a new CAO.

Tarnawsky was one of the four finalists that council interviewed, said Coun. Tom Flynn, who headed up the recruitment process along with Rigney.

It was a very close contest, he said, but Tarnawsky's experience working with the Capital Region Board (with which council has often butted heads) put him over the top. He was also more familiar to council members than the other candidates.

"The one that you know versus the one you don't – that's what it boiled down to," Flynn said.

Tarnawsky served as the county's manager of public services from June 2009 to November 2011, and has previously held leadership roles with the City of Edmonton, City of St. Albert and Capital Region Board.

Council has made considerable progress on its agenda during the last seven months, Tarnawsky said, which encouraged him to apply for the job.

"Council has found a way to work together and to work with me," he said.

The county has some great potential for growth in its future, Tarnawsky said, with major developments such as the North West upgrader and new homes around Villeneuve all set to launch in the coming years.

"Fundamentally, the county will be different three years and five years from now than it is now," he said. "That really makes it a desirable community in which to work."

Tarnawsky said he didn't expect the fact that he was appointed in a split vote to affect his job.

"One of the ways that successful CAOs work is by considering all decisions of council as unanimous, regardless of the count," he said.

Some councillors might have preferred someone other than Tarnawsky to be the new CAO, Flynn said, but all of them are willing to work with him.

"I think it's going to work out just fine."


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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