No matter how strong of a person you are, everyone has a limit of how much stress they can take. Everybody has a breaking point, and at the last regularly scheduled meeting of the Municipality of Swan Valley West (MSVW) – which took place on Monday (Feb. 13) – councillor Stan Potten announced publically, in front of his peers at the table and the ratepayers in the gallery, that he found his and wished to resign his position on council.
“The number one reason I resigned was because of my health,” he said. “The stress was affecting me way too much.”
Potten said that his doctor recommended that he go on stress leave, which he did. But, most of the stress was from his involvement with council and it carried over into his personal life.
Despite the leave, Potten continued to have health issues, and received a recommendation from his doctor, stating that “it would be beneficial for Stanley to extricate himself from his existing municipal commitments.”
“With stress, depression, anxiety, and heart issues, they told me I was a walking heart attack,” said Potten. “In dealing with my mental health, I was trying to shelve (the different issues that were affecting me). When I came home after Monday’s meeting, I felt so much better, because there was one thing that was done.
“I’m still here for the municipality. When I left, there were about 60 projects that I had been working on with our superintendent. Those didn’t go away so (the municipality) can still work off of those, and I told Verne (Scouten) and our superintendent that if they have any questions (about those plans), I would gladly answer.”
A big part of the stress that Potten was experiencing at the council table was because of divided opinions on significant decisions, many of which Potten thought should be no-brainers.
One such example was the decision to secure gravel pits for 20 years, in which the municipality contracted a consistent supply of gravel at the current price, saving them money in the long run.
Potten mentioned that, in many cases, the votes around the table would be split 4-3 in favour of a major spending decision.
Another case of division around the table was the matter of supporting a lawsuit that saw select council members and staff of the municipality take on local radio station CJ104 and Owner/General Manager Bill Gade. The lawsuit concerns allegedly slanderous and untrue statements that Gade has made about the municipality and some of its representatives and staff, both online and through broadcast media.
“One of the wildest things I ever heard Bill say during one of his (editorials) was, ‘Starting this afternoon, I’m going to take the councillors of Swan Valley West apart brick-by-brick, and may God have mercy on their souls,’” said Potten, noting that he felt that these kinds of statements created unnecessary negativity in the community.
Before Potten’s resignation, council supported the pursuit of the lawsuit four votes to three.
“I got sick of begging council to support our staff,” said Potten. “One of (our staff) phoned me up to ask if I could write a letter to council to say how (the staff) feels, so I did. They could not understand why all of council was not supporting them with what was being said about them.
“We are supposed to protect our staff because we are responsible for looking after the municipality.”
Potten referred to the Oath of Office for Members of Council, one statement of which said:
“That I will act faithfully in the office of Councillor without fear, favour, or affection and will truly, faithfully, and impartially, and to the best of my knowledge and ability execute the duties and responsibilities of that office.
“And I make this solemn declaration, conscientiously believing it to be true and knowing that it is of the same force and effect as if made under oath, and by virtue of The Canada Evidence Act.”
Potten highlighted that by taking this oath, as well as through Workplace Health and Safety, council is legally required to protect its staff.
“Any way we have to protect them, we will,” he said. “It doesn’t say we have to take somebody to court, but when you run out of options, you have to take whatever you have.”
In regards to municipal funds that are going towards funding the lawsuit, Potten said that those dollars are being used to represent the staff members only.
“If I or any of the councillors were to win anything out of the lawsuit, it would go back to the municipality,” he said. “I can’t speak for the staff, but they’ve been through enough that they deserve something out of it.”
Potten noted a trend between what the MSVW is experiencing and what the Town of Neepawa went through a few years back.
“He put the Town of Neepawa through exactly what he put the Town of Swan River and now the municipality through,” he said.
Potten added that it was never in the interest of the municipality to “destroy” Gade or his business, but rather to stop his series of slanderous statements against the previous council, the current council, and the councils to come.
While it is easy for Potten to get fired up while discussing the legal matter with Gade, it saddens and frustrates him more to see a dysfunctional council that has trouble agreeing and certain foundational matters of the operation of a municipality, such as purchasing gravel, equipment, or services, or even something as simple as being behind your staff.
“I am happy with the changes that I’ve seen in the staff, who are super and work well across the board,” Potten added.
He also noted that he is pleased with the changes and the work that has been accomplished with the joint effort of council in this term.
“Our staff have more tools in their toolbox now, and they’re happy about that,” said Potten. “I’m also very happy about our newly secured gravel pits, our drainage projects, and some of the Disaster Financial Assistance projects that we were able to complete.”
Potten encourages ratepayers to get involved if they would like to see other changes made to the municipality.
“Go to council meetings and see what’s going on,” he said. “If you have concerns, take them to council. If you’ve heard something and you think it’s absurd, come and get verified. That’s the only way the municipality is going to fix these problems.”
Potten also encourages the good leaders of the community to step up during the upcoming by-election to fill his seat on council.
“I feel like residents are afraid to run because they’ve heard what the radio station has said about council and municipal staff,” said Potten. “This is wrong and it needs to stop.
“We need good people to keep moving this municipality forward. It’s rough, but it’s going to get fixed, and it takes good leaders to fix it.”