The village of Empress, in southern Alberta, borders the Saskatchewan border.
Located between two rivers northeast of Medicine Hat, the prairie community of about 100 people is home to a group of artisans and serves as a central hub for the surrounding ranching and farming community.
But locals say the village is divided following the resignation of the village council in recent days – fighting like “Hatfields and McCoys”, as one local put it.
“The city is very badly divided,” said Steve Springett, owner of the Empress Forksview building and motel.
“It’s like us and the liberals and the conservatives – we just go back and forth. Or like the Americans. You know? There’s kind of two sides here.”
The head of administration
The village lost its executive director, Debbie Ross, earlier this year after serving in that role for nearly a decade. She said she quit after reaching a breaking point trying to deal with the village council.
Trouble began, according to Ross, when she fired the village public works foreman, Martin Jarvis, who she said was not properly following the regulations and policies set by the council.
“It didn’t go well,” Ross said. “So he actually campaigned and ran in the new election…and he was in the campaign to get rid of me.”
At the end of 2021, Jarvis managed to become mayor, running in tandem with Dan Moslamani, who became deputy mayor. Clinton Steinley completed the three-person board.
Ross claimed the couple had “tried to make my life miserable”.
“Lots of accusations,” Ross said. “I should show him [Municipal Government Act]showing him what he could or couldn’t do, and it got to the point where I didn’t want to care about it anymore.”
Ross said she found herself at a breaking point when she said Jarvis came one day with a letter and a member of the RCMP, intending to fire Ross.
“Of course he doesn’t have the authority. The only one that confirmed me is the board as a whole,” Ross said.
“He said that one of the other councilors [Moslamani] was okay with that. And this other adviser said he absolutely disagreed with that after the fact.”
RCMP spokeswoman Gina Slaney said police were asked to show up to keep the peace, adding there was nothing criminal involved.
Ross said her frustrations boiled down to what she considered a “lack of understanding.”
“Or it’s a lack of willingness to understand what the rules are and how to operate as a counsel or adviser,” Ross said.
“It didn’t work out,” Jarvis said of his time on the board. “I really wanted to do good for the city.”
The former mayor said he ran his campaign based on being a “voice of the people”. He said he was never explicitly involved in a campaign to get rid of Ross.
“They say I ran to get rid of her. But if I ran to get rid of her, I got the majority of votes. So if that’s true, then what is it? what does that tell you?” he said.
He said he may have made a few mistakes here and there during his time as public works foreman, but he always gave his “120%”, even helping people at night during his time. free.
So he said there was some bitterness between the two in the period following his dismissal. But Jarvis said his campaign was based solely on questions he heard from the community.
“If people had a question, I was going to ask it. And I wasn’t afraid to ask it,” he said. “And, yes, we should be able to ask the questions…she must have surveillance.”
Regarding the incident with the RCMP officer and the letter, Jarvis said he received very bad advice from a businessman.
“I was stupid. I’m really frustrated that I did that. But anyway, she cleared things up for me,” he said, adding that he apologized to Ross later.
Jarvis said he hoped to work things out with Ross after that. He said he realized that Ross was good at what she did.
“I said, ‘I want to work with you. You’re awesome.’ And so I really thought we were on the same page,” he said. “But anyway, it didn’t work out.”
After Ross resigned on February 17, she was hired by the town of Oyen, Alta., to serve as that community’s executive director.
Almost a week later, a council meeting was held to determine next steps for the Empress.
Springett, the motel owner, attended that meeting and said the residents at the meeting were “very loud and really disrespectful…calling [council] liars.”
He said the mayor and deputy mayor didn’t seem to be on the same page and seemed “very inexperienced”.
Nearly two months later, the con. Clint Steinley has resigned. He did not respond to an interview request.
Trouble seemed to mount for the remaining council after that.
On April 20, the village’s email account was hacked, unrelated to what had happened with the council. The spammers sent emails from the village’s account, prompting the village to warn residents to watch out for phishing emails.
Speaking by phone on April 28, Moslamani said he had no choice but to resign given the direction of the council and the divisiveness currently felt in the community.
“I’m not going to live forever. I’m going to face God one day. And I have to answer him,” he said.
“So I know people, they’re going to come after me now. But you think I care? They’re not God.”
A divided village
Jarvis said the contentious February board meeting was difficult. He said he “took the pieces, took the abuse”.
Because it was a public forum, he let residents have their say —some in favour, some opposed to what happened.
Looking back, Jarvis said he wished he had spoken more with Ross, to bridge their relationship.
“You really have to trust your CAD that you have in place,” he said.
Part of the problem, Jarvis said, was the ongoing feud in the community that split the village into two groups for years, unrelated to the incidents at the council.
“I think it’s different families. Different injuries. People hurt hurt people, I guess that’s it,” he said. “There have been quarrels between families, and people hurt people a long time ago, and don’t deal with it, and don’t want to do it again.”
Jarvis and Moslamani resigned on April 26, the latter citing the pressures of growing stress.
“I just couldn’t take it,” Moslamani said. “My doctor confronted me, he said, ‘You have to stop, your blood pressure is excessive.'”
Jarvis said his hope for the next board would be for him to mend the wounds.
A spokesperson for Alberta’s municipal affairs minister wrote in an email that he had been advised of the loss of quorum for the municipality and would appoint an official administrator.
This administrator will be able to assist with governance and ensure that there is no disruption to service delivery until board quorum can be restored.
I would love to start over, but I don’t think we can.– Martin Jarvis, former Mayor of the Empress
In the meantime, the village of Empress will face divisions among community members, some of which have been exacerbated by anxieties over the pandemic and declining trends in rural economies.
“People are worried about the economy coming back,” Springett said. “We’re in an oil and gas area, mostly gas. The towns around us have been thriving. But the little town here hasn’t been.”
Jarvis said he wished Ross the best. He said he would like her to come back to the community.
“I would love to do it again, but I don’t think we can,” he said. “I would like to know why people want to be like that and not get along. I’m just as bad, I guess. I was one of them.
“Looking back, I wish I had done more. But I can’t undo it.”