WESTLOCK – Westlock County Division 2 ratepayers have spoken, giving Jared Stitsen another four-year term.
At the close of nomination day, Sept. 20, Stitsen was the only incumbent to receive a free pass back to council chambers as Lou Hall, Isaac Skuban and Victor Julyan all face challengers in their divisions, while Brian Coleman and Dennis Primeau are not running.
Stitsen, a lifelong Busby-area resident, who also serves as the fire chief of the Busby Fire Department, thanked residents specifically for their support and willingness to give him another mandate. Stitsen’s acclamation is the first in the county since 2013 when three incumbents — Jim Wiese, Don Savage and Ron Zadunayski — faced no challengers.
“It can kind of go both ways. I had this discussion with my wife and I said that maybe no one wants the job because they see some of the punishment councillors ultimately take,” he said with a chuckle. “But I’m honoured. I’m still learning a lot and there’s a long ways to go. I rely on the residents of Division 2 and throughout the county, as reeve, to get feedback.
“You have to keep your ears open as to what people are thinking — to me that’s important. If anyone forgets that it’s time to move on and do something different.”
Looking forward they’ll be no shortage of work for Stitsen and the new council. The municipality’s financial woes are no secret as they continue to try and balance residents’ service-level expectations versus the tax rate.
“Economic development is huge for us right now. We all know the tight spot we’re in with finances. Everyone says to cut, but there’s only so much you can cut and you have to bring in some new revenue streams,” he continued. “I’ve talked to ratepayers and they don’t want a lot more services cut and we saw that with the transfer stations — they didn’t want it cut and they were willing to pay to keep them.”
Stitsen also gave kudos to the municipality’s new CAO Kay Spiess and her work in trying to stabilize the municipality as the county has rolled through 10 CAOs in the past eight years. Spiess started as CAO in April, taking over from interim CAO Rick McDonald, who had replaced Leo Ludwig, who had been initially hired in 2016. Ludwig tendered his resignation in September 2020 following a four-month leave of absence.
“Kay has been awesome, she’s opening every door and doing her best on the economic development front. We’re going to see some great things in this term,” said Stitsen. “We just need to keep working. For the first two-and-a-half years of the last term it seemed like we were spinning our wheels — there were a lot of issues.”
Stitsen also looks forward to improving relations and cooperation with the town and Village of Clyde, a definite highlight of the past year specifically.
“(Mayor) Ralph (Leriger) and I have lots of phone conversations and there’s a good line of communication. We’ve been working on breaking down the barriers and it’s working. I’m hoping it will keep happening,” he said.
Stitsen has sat as reeve since last October, a position voted on annually by council, and said he’s enjoyed the extra work. He will let his name stand again for the position when the new council meets following the election Oct. 18.
“I’m happy to provide that consistency and will definitely let my name stand for reeve. There’s a lot for new councillors to learn right off the hop and I want to be able to help in any way I can,” he concluded.